Isn’t It Time to Make Time?

It’s no secret. Since I began at Harwood, I have been having the “Time” conversation with Department Heads and Teachers, Leadership Team Members, Union Representatives, Central Office Administration, School Board Members, Students, Parents – and just about anyone else who will listen. After all, time is the single most common factor mentioned, regardless of the topic, as the barrier for change. As educators we are constantly highlighting our need for more time and then strategizing how to get it; its our reality. But does it have to be?

Transformation requires innovative ideas and approaches. Conventionally, innovation is defined as the ‘exploitation of a new idea that through practical action adds value to a product, process, or service.’ Seemingly, in thinking  about educational innovation, the emphasis is on service; that is making change so that we can achieve a new dimension, a greater level of performance for leader, teacher and student. Not surprisingly, this type of innovative can be ‘learned’. According to David Hargreaves, “innovation or knowledge creation means that practitioners learn to do things differently in order to do them better.” Learning is our field of expertise, so what is preventing us from learning to do ‘things’ better? In my eyes, there are two answers and one – time, is a direct correlation of the other – our organizational framework of school.
If we are to innovate our professional methodology, then we need the time to do the learning. And this is not just any type of learning – like reading a book or taking a course. No, this is about building collective capacity, a research-based practice that has shown to yield results in schools and Nations across the globe. Collective Capacity is characterized by a collaborative, on-going, job embedded structure aligned to the Action Plan, focused on results, and designed to improve the school (versus the individual); simply it is about learning together.
Recently, the Center for International Education Benchmarking and the National Center on Education and the Economy released a comprehensive 66 page report, Beyond PD: Teacher Professional Learning in High- Performing Systems.  In addition, understanding that educational practitioners have very little ‘time’, they also published a 2 page “Key Take Aways” of the report.
The results are not surprising. According to the report, in the highest performing systems, professional learning is central to teachers’ jobs – it is not an “add on,” something done on Friday afternoons or on a few days at the end of the school year, but it is how they all improve student learning; it is how they improve schools; and it is how they are evaluated in their jobs.”
And while these systems utilize different approaches to professional learning, the common denominators are the same:
  • Building collaborative professional learning into the daily lives of teachers and school leaders, and having it reinforced by resourcing policies that free up teachers’ time for collaborative professional learning.
  • Using – and then leveraging the improvement cycle to turn schools into true learning organizations.
  • Developing specialist expertise among teachers to lead others.
I believe in Collective Capacity, and I believe the teachers at Harwood do as well.  Yet despite our beliefs, despite the research, and despite our strong, professional desire to do the learning necessary to be ‘innovative’, we continue to function in an organizational framework structured for a different era – an era that has now long passed. Our school day continues to reflect the industrial era work day; that is ringing bells and time on task. For teachers, time on task is calculated by the number of minutes with students, not colleagues.
In part, this is dictated by VT Statute Title16 §1121 Compulsory Attendance and §1071. School Year and School Day which requires students to be in attendance for the full number of school days (175) and for the full school day as determined by the State Board, and in part, by our negotiated agreement which has remain relatively unchanged.
In short,  there are 3 phases in innovation or knowledge creation: the generation of the idea, its application in practice, and its transfer into widespread adoption. (Hargreaves)  Seemingly, if we (Harwood, WWSU, VT, & our Nation) are to make progress with the application and adoption phases, then courageous action is necessary to restructure the organizational framework of school so that we can successfully build collective capacity, and thus learn to be innovators. Isn’t it time, we re-organize so that as professionals we truly have the time we need to learn together and do things better?
Hargreaves, DH, Education Epidemic: Transforming secondary schools through innovative networks. Demos, 2003.