There is no question that time is a valuable commodity in schools. Not only do we as educators try to carve out any additional minute for learning with students, the time we spend with colleagues and collaborative teams is equally valuable and seemingly never enough. In a Collaborative Response Model, the Collaborative Team Meetings are a foundational component that we have suggested is one of the very first stepping stones to implementing a school-wide system of supports for students (see Essential Elements of a Collaborative Team Meeting). The fourth essential element of the Collaborative Team Meeting is focused on time embedded in the school timetable and calendar.
The School Timetable is Not in Stone
In a school that is establishing or sustaining an effective Collaborative Response Model, one of the paramount tasks of the school leader is embedding time in the master schedule for Collaborative Team Meetings to occur. It is critical that professionals have time to collaborate (for further reading, refer to articles from Thomas Many or Rick DuFour and his associates) and assembling in these meetings to focus on kids will not be nearly as effective if treated as an add-on. At conferences and school workshops, we are always questioned how do we make time for teams to meet. This is a very difficult question to answer as every school is different and what works in one context often can’t even be considered in another. Our response is typically “effective leaders need to think outside of the box, consider all options and find ways to build that time into the timetable”. The school timetable is not set in stone (even if in some schools start and end times are inflexible). That being said, here are some thoughts and ideas to get the ball rolling
Ask your staff – quite often staff members will have ideas or even will express allowances they are willing to make to make this meeting time happen. Pose the question to staff and see what surfaces.
Utilize current PD days or staff meetings – could current structures in the school or district, such as PD days or staff meetings, be re-envisioned to allow time for collaborative team meetings? Many schools use these student-free times to coordinate their collaborative team meetings.
Combine classes – Can three classes be made into two for some subjects (health, PE, library, music, etc.)? In the past, we’ve released three teachers at the same grade level by having another staff member take half of the students to PE and the other half go to library, for example. Freeing up three staff members and only needing two to cover them can be an effective way to maximize release time. Can all students at a grade level engage in a non-core subject together once during a week to allow the grade level teachers to be made available for time together?
When is minimal supervision required? – could a single staff member supervise a large group of students during times of the day (lunch time, some schools have a “drop everything and read time”, etc.). We have seen a model where teachers were released from eating lunch with their class (using support staff instead) and then not used for lunch recess supervision, creating a sizable chunk of time where teachers met and ate their lunch together, allowing the meetings to happen. In this case, it was easier to adjust the supervision schedule than the instructional schedule.
Consider large group activities – we once tried having all students in the school come together for a large challenge assembly once a month, with the principal leading it and support staff there to help. Although this particular experiment was not necessarily successful, it is an example of how we can think out of the box to find release time for teachers. A number of schools have commented that they do this exact thing through assemblies, outdoor activities, guest speakers, etc. Which leads into the next point…
Try something new as a pilot – if taking a risk and trying something fundamentally different, is there a way to try it with a single grade level or smaller group of people? We have learned that it is great to take risks and try something new to see if it works in the school but trying it out as a pilot can be very effective. For instance, two years ago, we considered going to a “recess before lunch” model for students but rather than go whole school, we piloted it for four months with just grade fours, got feedback from teachers, parents and students and then used that to make the move as a whole school in the following year. A pilot gives you the chance to massage some of the kinks or address issues that arise that were never considered.
Utilize substitutes – although a little more costly, many schools we’ve talked to make the collaborative team meetings happen through the use of hiring substitutes for a day, allowing different grade levels to be released for the meetings during the day. Although we would suggest considering this as “plan B” due to costs, need for teachers to create sub plans and the disruption to students, we do feel that the value of the Collaborative Team Meetings makes it worthwhile. However, this should be the option once all other considerations have been exhausted.
Check out other school timetables – for us, the statement “we can’t find any time in our school for teams to meet” doesn’t hold much water, based on the abundant evidence of schools across North America that are able to accomplish such a task, often with less resources and greater barriers. Seek out examples of schools that have found ways to carve out collaborative time. AllThingsPLC also has some great articles, samples and resources related to creating a school timetable with time for collaboration.
We have developed Google forms for schools to share how they currently provide embedded time, as well as view a collection of these responses. Consider using an Embedding Time for Collaboration Chart to help facilitate staff discussions.
Building time into that master timetable for Collaborative Team Meetings is critical. However, it is also important to establish the Collaborative Team Meeting dates for the year in the school’s annual planning calendar for staff.
CTM dates established annually
The first year we established Collaborative Team Meetings (CTMs) in our school, we said they would happen approximately every five weeks but never stated in advance when those dates would be. You can guess next what happened! An email would show up saying “are we meeting this week?” and the stress accompanying poor planning would set in.
We now recommend that schools establish at the start of the year the dates for the collaborative team meetings. At Kurtis’ last school, every grade level had time carved into the master timetable once a week to meet as a team based on a meeting cycle. Every fifth week (or so), a Collaborative Team Meeting would happen. In the annual staff calendar, the weeks where Collaborative Team Meetings would happen were identified (ie. September 20-24, November 6-10, January 14-18, March 3-7, May 12-16). Staff members then knew that during that week, a Collaborative Team Meeting would happen during their grade level planning time. Once these dates were established for the year, they could be planned for more effectively as staff saw them looming ahead in their calendars. We have shared an example of collaborative team meeting times established in an annual calendar.
If we, as school leaders, really believe in the power of the Collaborative Team Meeting to ensure all students have the appropriate supports and interventions in place for their success, we must find ways to have those meetings as part of their work day. This is a critically important responsibility that school leaders need to embrace and place as a priority in their schools if a Collaborative Response Model is ever going to succeed.
All our best as you continue to put the pieces together!
Adapted from a previous posting – originally published October 20, 2011