Collaboration Time

First, a note on the forum from which this post springs: #edchat on Twitter.  #Edchat is a weekly discussion of a topic related to education, taking place on Tuesdays 12pm-1pm and again 7pm-8pm eastern time zone (U.S.).  A good explanation of it is here.  Unfortunately, I have not figured out a good way to follow and contribute to this discussion.  Same thing for another conversation I’d like to follow and engage in: #BlackEd, related to the education of black students.  To me, the participation volume of these discussions is just overwhelming.  I read a page worth of posts (~20), and by that time a message has popped up, saying “36 new tweets since you started searching”!  And if I see a message to which I’d like to respond among those on the page, I pause for a minute or two to craft a response, then that number jumps even higher with 50-60 new tweets for me to read!  Now I am aware that I need not read every single one, but then I would feel rude if I brought up the same point someone else already had.  So if anyone has suggestions for a way to better follow these discussions, please let me know!  For those who follow #edchat, what works for you?

Today’s midday chat, parts of which I read (along the fringes) after the fact around 1:00, concerned restructuring school schedules to a 4-day week.  Folks participating in the conversation identified pros and cons, and suggested ways to make up for lost learning time: extended school day Mon-Thurs, Friday community-based learning, Friday online learning, requiring more independent student work, etc. To me, one of the most interesting ideas proposed was having students attend school four days, and using the fifth day for teacher collaboration, professional development, and lesson planning.  This idea came from Mr. William Chamberlain in the following posts:






I believe this is a wonderful idea. Yesterday and today, since kids began the days with standardized testing (HSAs), I have had 5-6 hours of planning and collaboration time each day.  Monday I met with other teachers to plan out events for an upcoming outdoor STEM Competition (STEM=Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). I also worked with other teachers to help us all prepare for administering the online-based engineering final exams. Today I wrote eight projects.  One is a video review project for my Algebra II  with Trigonometry (A2T) students, where they will create video recaps of important skills they’ve learned this semester to help them get ready for the final exam in three weeks.  The other projects, together with more that I had already written, bring my list of A2T final projects up to fourteen.  This is enough for each student to choose a different final project topic and do some independent exploration into an algebraic or analytic topic related to the course.  I also had a student research Glogster for me for future use in a math project, and, of course, I read through parts of #edchat!

Other countries seem to allot significantly more planning time to teachers out of their school days and weeks. According to this blog post, the ratio of planning time to teaching time in the U.S.  is 1:4 (i.e. 20% of total work time is devoted to planning) whereas other countries’ average is 2:3 (40% of total work time is devoted to planning).  The chart posted here shows hours teachers spend in front of the classroom in various countries; note that Japan has less than half the face-time hours of the United States! For those interested in further reading, a nice argument for greater planning time is here.

As a teacher who also helps run the engineering department at my school, this year I have had more planning time than most of my colleagues. Now I use that time and more every day: I arrive each day at 7:30 for a school day that starts at 8:45, and stay most afternoons until 5 or 6 because so much needs to get done that even my extra planning time is not enough! But I am grateful for this extra planning time, and I believe that all my fellow teachers should have this advantage. We should follow the trend of other countries, reducing the time spent in front of classes of students, while increasing the time available for teachers to plan. During planning time, teachers should create and modify lessons, observe each other, share ideas, critique others’ lesson plans, learn new things, collaborate on joint projects between multiple classes, plan field trips and other events, build personal learning networks (PLNs) both in-school and online, and discuss strategies to improve education at their school and globally. This could be done by using Friday as a teacher collaboration and planning day, or in other ways like reduing teachers’ course-load. What do you think?

I am aware that I am lucky to have this time


Filed under teaching

2 responses to “Collaboration Time

  1. Two things.

    First, in high-volume online collaboration discussions, you MUST abandon the idea that you have to read it all. I’ve wrestled with this many times (in high-volume Twitter streams, attacking my Google Reader backlog, even working with my email inbox) and it’s not always easy to avoid feeling guilty or remiss when you can’t get to it all. But it’s vital.

    If you feel that it would be rude to contribute something that someone else has already said,let yourself off the hook! Remember that none of the rest of us can read it all either. So we will probably not notice that you’re repeating something said elsewhere. Either we didn’t see the other comment, or we won’t see yours.

    So relax, read as much as you can, and abandon the sense that you have to examine it all.

    As for reduced school day models, I agree that it serves educators to have sufficient planning time. (In fact, I insist on having at least 40% planning time in my own career as an adult professional educator,) but I don’t know that it serves learners to reduce their in-school time.

    Reading Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” recently, I revisited my views about the oft-cited truism that “children need playtime.” What I see now is that children will make playtime, and so will we, as adults. A lot of that will be integrated into the schoolday (or workday) rhythm. Meanwhile, what’s missing is the lesson to children that hard work is what’s actually required to win big.

    We’ve entertained a cultural conversation for a long time that we shouldn’t work so hard, but we still want to compete with people who are willing to do so. It isn’t sustainable.

    The evidence surrounds us now in the form of reduced effectiveness in our educational system’s results, reduced impact in the global workplace, and a decline in our economy relative to the world. It’s time for us to roll up our sleeves and to teach our children that it’s what’s required.

    I know that you personally (and in fact, most of teachers in this country) do work extremely hard. I’m simply saying that as a culture, it’s time that we began to source a conversation that this is what will be expected of us. It’s not wrong, or unfair. It’s just how life will work. Because there are people who are willing to work very hard and they will appear in the workplace alongside us.

    If we succeed in spreading this sensibility, there will be more teachers available, and that will make it possible for us to spread active learner time out among them to produce the planning time that’s required.

  2. nyates314

    Thanks to Vincent and others who gave me suggestions on Twitter. I appreciate both the advice about relaxing my compulsivity about needing to read each post, and who suggested Tweetdeck, Tweetchat, Tweetgrid, and Twitterfall as ways to manage a chat stream easier-to-manage than just searching for the hashtag on

    Today was the first time I’ve had a chance to try being more in a discussion than just on the fringes: I participated in #ELLchat via Tweetgrid, which worked fairly well. My school has the largest population of English Language Learner (ELL) students of any in Baltimore, and I know we will be getting a number of students for whom English is not their first language entering our engineering program next year. So #ELLchat (Mondays at 9pm Eastern) is a conversation I hope to be following (and taking part in) more over the next few months.

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