Rethinking Teacher Time for Professional Development

Today's post is written by Chelsea Murphy, the Communications & Digital Media Associate for NCTL.

This week I read the article “Professional Learning Takes Time in Education Week.  The article is an honest teacher perspective from Noah Zeichner, a Teacher at Chief Sealth International School in Seattle, Washington, who shares his belief in the value of building professional learning opportunities into the school day. He reflects, “As I finish up my first decade of classroom teaching, there is still much I want to learn…” This raises the question- if teachers are asking for it, how can we support teacher professional development?

Noah’s theme, assessing how time is used in school is very much in line with our work at NCTL.  We believe that time well-spent can be beneficial for students as well as teachers, who are the strongest in-school influence on student performance and have implications that go well into the children’s futures.  All children deserve great teachers, and we must continue to work to build effective/excellent teachers. Our newest report, Time for Teachers: Leveraging Time to Strengthen Instruction and Empower Teachers, came to many of the same conclusions mentioned in this article, and highlights how using time specifically in expanded-time schools can successfully provide teachers with more time to collaborate with colleagues, analyze students data, create new lesson plans, and develop new skills.  More time in the day creates the opportunity for teachers to learn from one another and creates a continuous learning environment of robust teachers.

Also similar to Noah’s comparison to Singapore we compared U.S schools to international countries and on average, U.S. teachers spend approximately 80 percent of their time on instruction, while the international average for countries reporting data to the OECD is 67 percent. Schools that we featured in Time for Teachers spend 60 percent of their expanded school schedule on direct instruction with 40 percent of their time on collaboration, coaching, one-on-one support, and other activities and even with less direct instruction, achievement rates were higher than before. We have found that schools that have strategically set aside time for teacher collaboration have successfully seen rising student achievement.

Through this article, it’s great to see empowered teachers who are starting to innovatively think about how to use school time.  In order to start to implement real change to support professional development we also need support from district leaders to direct resources and support schools to create school-embedded professional learning opportunities and to put in place the infrastructure and staffing models to support students while teachers are learning together.

Share your thoughts on using school time for professional development in comments.