Teachers, Time & Sustainable Solutions

This is a guest post by NCTL's Manager of the Massachusetts Expanded Learning Time Initiative, Emily Raine.

Last Thursday, NCTL was invited by Teach Plus to participate in an evening of conversations with their Boston Teaching Policy Fellows.  Teach Plus is a three year-old and rapidly growing organization devoted to creating opportunities for teachers to engage in education leadership and policy, all while staying in the classroom. Their Teaching Policy Fellows are a carefully selected group of ubertalented and passionate teachers, who meet regularly for 18 months to come up with new ideas to address the challenges facing their schools and the system as a whole. Check out their most recent policy brief on teacher evaluation; it’s good stuff.
Thursday’s event brought these fellows together with a handful of policymakers – Boston Teachers Union President Richard Stutman and State Senator (and former teacher) Sonia Chang-Diaz among them – to discuss the issues they and we care about, including expanded learning time. The mere fact that expanded time is on the agenda at a teacher-driven event like this is exhilarating, and represents a sizable shift from when I first started at NCTL five years ago. 
I participated in an hour of rapid-fire dialogue full of questions, challenges, and possible solutions with nine of the fellows. We discussed teacher and student burnout, staggered schedules, the best way to approach academic interventions, the worst way to approach academic interventions, and the bevy of opportunities more learning time can present for the arts, music, health, theater, and science labs. I left with my head spinning, but over the past few days three things have crystallized in my mind as a result of listening to these thoughtful teachers:
1. There’s broad consensus among teachers – at least these teachers - that students need and deserve more learning time. I was reminded of KIPP Co-founder Dave Levin’s declaration last fall that “more time cannot be the debate anymore”: we know today’s students need more time to succeed. This simply can’t be in question.
2. While there’s a lot of emerging evidence about how to expand time effectively, the question of how to expand time sustainably has not yet been answered. When I think “sustainability”, I think funding.  At NCTL we’ve been thinking about that quandary for years, and we think we’re starting to make some inroads. But the teachers pushed my thinking about what “sustainable” really means, not simply in terms of dollars and cents, but in terms of human capital. We have to come up with more dynamic expanded time models that meet the needs of students, and also the very real needs of the adults that work with them. The most “effective” ELT school isn’t effective if, over time, it exhausts the ambition, creativity, and stamina of our best teachers. 
3. We need teachers to help develop solutions to this challenge. We simply can’t do it without them. We’re fortunate to have some former teachers on staff here – as well as principals, superintendents, and after-school leaders like me – but ultimately, inventive solutions to expanding time effectively and sustainably will come from the front-line teachers working in schools and classrooms every day.
On that last point, our team is already thinking through how to more deeply engage teacher-leaders like those in the Teaching Plus network in a “reengineering” of existing expanded day and year models. To any teachers out there reading this: how can YOU help create new solutions to expanding time sustainably?