How do schools make time for teachers to collaborate?

Dedicated time for teachers to work together is crucial to collaboration.150 Time for collaboration can be carved out of teachers’ schedules. But this way of thinking about collaboration—as a discrete activity that teachers take time out of their “real” work to do—means thinking about collaboration as an add-on to individualized, egg crate–type schools rather than a fundamental way of working.

Some schools and districts explicitly build time into teachers’ schedules to enable them to collaborate.

Certain simple forms of collaboration such as sharing lesson plans may happen without physical contact and may take very little time. But time and spaces are required for sustained, ongoing discussions of lesson designs, student learning processes, subject-area issues, multidisciplinary connections and pedagogical challenges. Unfortunately, time for collaboration is not always reflected in teachers’ formal schedules or paid time.151

Time and spaces are required for sustained, ongoing collaborative work.

A few studies have shown that shared planning time is related to increased student achievement152 and reduced teacher turnover.153 Principals are particularly influential in making time for teachers to collaborate, as they make many decisions about schedules in their schools.154 (For more on this topic, see the section on principals.) Scheduled time for teacher collaboration was one of three key components of successful collaboration identified in a case study of a struggling rural high school at which a new principal implemented collaboration-focused reforms that led to significant increases in student achievement.155 (For more on this study, see the section on student achievement.)

Making time for collaboration can include scheduling occasional days off for students or creating regular times during the school week when teachers can work together.

Researchers have described a variety of approaches to making time for teachers to collaborate.156 Some schools use professional development or in-service days for collaboration.157 Others carefully construct teachers’ and students’ schedules so that teachers on a team all have shared time when they are not teaching a class so that they can work together.158 One district in California changed schedules districtwide so that school started later once every two weeks, giving teachers 90 minutes of collaboration plus 30 minutes before the students arrived at school to prepare for classes.159 A district in Texas had teachers meet in grade-level teams on Wednesday afternoons every two weeks, although it is unclear from the study whether these meetings took place after the regular school day or whether students had early releases.160

Setting aside time for collaboration does not mean that teachers will know how to use that time effectively.

Setting aside time for collaboration does not mean that teachers will know how to use that time effectively.161 In a study of Title I elementary schools, which serve substantial proportions of low-income students, teachers reported that time scheduled for shared planning or collaboration was sometimes used for other purposes, canceled or rescheduled at the last minute and that some schools’ meetings felt incoherent.162 (For more on this topic, see the subsection on goals for collaboration.) Making time for collaboration is important but not sufficient: That time must be used effectively.


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