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May 1, 2022

Ask an ASCD Expert / Hectic Schedule Threatens Teacher's Quality of Life

ASCD faculty and authors respond to educators' dilemmas.
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Q: Teachers are supposed to get planning time. Yet, two days a week my planning time is taken up by collaborative learning teams, and the rest of the days there are either meetings or a crisis of some kind. We only have a half-hour for lunch, so there is no time then. Is there a solution to this? I do not know any teacher who consistently gets planning time.
Needs More Time
A: This is an age-old tension: Ensuring time for teacher planning and dealing with the operational realities of a school.
To be sure, teacher planning time is crucial. For me, it meant having the time to plan a lesson and if possible, check a paper or two. With 175 students, each time I assigned a five-page essay that meant 875 pages (the equivalent of 3 novels) to read. It became a quality-of-life issue. How I managed time determined not only my own work-life balance, but also the quality of feedback my students received about their writing and critical thinking skills.
On the other hand, the realities of running a school building can't be discounted. The first duty of a school is to ensure students are physically, mentally, and emotionally safe. Which means when a student or a teacher is in crisis, the plan for the day is often sidelined.
I wonder what happens in your collaborative planning team meetings that is not in service of your needs. The way your collaborative planning team meetings are currently organized leaves you with the feeling that they are "taking up" your time. I also wonder what other meetings could be held less frequently. Finally, I wonder what due diligence the school administration has done to plan for collaborative work so that there are both strong processes and operations in place and daily routines are well designed and not chaotic.
Let's be a little more specific. When I was a principal, teachers had content-specific collaborative planning twice a week. During this time, teachers co-designed unit and lesson plans, examined student work, discussed student misconceptions, and analyzed data. Additional time on another day was for CARE Team meetings, where grade-level teams focused on social-emotional issues and behavior concerns or had meetings with a parent or counselor. This left two days a week for individual planning time sessions. The use of protocols was essential to accomplishing so much within a very tight window of time.
But even more important was the co-construction of a set of belief statements that guided every action and decision for both teachers and administrators. Belief statements like:
  • Every child deserves a school with a healthy, safe, engaging, supportive, and challenging environment.
  • An engaged, highly skilled, and effective teacher is essential in every classroom.
  • We learn by doing the work. We are committed to developing our practice. Collaboration is essential, and no staff member is an independent contractor working in isolation.
We've learned some important lessons during the pandemic. One is that all learning is relational; another is that isolation is damaging. Educators learn and teach best in a community, just like our students learn best when they are in a community of learners. If we view collective spaces as opportunities, we will strengthen our schools and our students' learning experiences.

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