On Thursday, December 8th, over 500 educators gathered at the APS Berna Facio Professional Development Center. They had come to APS’s third Share Fair for participants in the APS/Albuquerque Teachers Federation (ATF) Professional Day Pilot program. The enthusiasm of this group was palpable as they discussed the groundbreaking work they undertook in their collaboration and professional learning time to co-develop strong practices that focus on deeper student learning in their classrooms to better meet students’ needs (See the information sheet jointly created by the ATF and the district here.)
The Professional Day Pilot is the brainchild of ATF President Ellen Bernstein who, for years, has championed educators getting paid for at least some of the time they spend outside the “duty day” necessary to the success of our complex work.
The Pilot participants agreed to add an hour per day exclusively for “adult time.” Educators spent that additional hour preparing, collaborating, engaging in professional development, completing committee work and other tasks that are essential to strong instruction, but are often part of the unpaid expectations educators are expected to take on.
The participants worked in small teams to study and develop initiatives, practices, and courses of study that focused on topics such as student-centered pedagogy, deeper learning, social emotional learning (SEL), project based learning (PBL), and assessment. In small groups, each educator enthusiastically described the work their collaborative teams did in the first semester with teams of practitioners from other sites.
To Dr. Bernstein, the success of the program was not a surprise. Citing research that increased opportunities for collaboration and teamwork leads to greater educator satisfaction with their job and higher retention rates, Ellen wrote last year in the Educators’ Voice:
“Adult time makes a huge difference in stress levels. Increases in workload have added to stress levels, higher anxiety, physical health problems and depression. Constant changes- greater and misdirected accountability schemes, demands to incorporate the “latest ideas” through dubious professional development, and technologies without proper resourcing- are much harder to deal with in a field where we are isolated in our egg-crate school buildings.
Some legislative leaders are stuck on the idea that more time in school will make a significant impact on learning. Perhaps. But, if we are to really make a positive impact with all our students, an increased workday should be part of the plan.
Deep change happens when adult time is included so that we may all research, plan for, and implement a more equitable, student-focused education system. With proper planning, collaboration time, and self-selected professional learning opportunities we bolster our skills and knowledge, and we can pursue bold initiatives that will help all our kids thrive. Real change to our factory model system requires considerable collaborative time.
The minutes and hours of the school day are critical to build knowledge, foster student motivation, and drive student outcomes. To make the most of precious instructional time, teachers must first develop engaging lessons that meet the various needs of students. This requires teachers to collaborate, plan, and reflect outside of instructional time. Effective school schedules maximize the time teachers spend with their students but also recognize educators’ additional responsibilities beyond instructional time.
Unfortunately, not enough schools successfully balance these priorities. Teachers in the United States spend far more time engaged in active instruction than teachers in other high-performing countries. Based on self-reported data, teachers in the United States spend 27 hours teaching out of 45 hours of work per week. Compare this with teachers in Singapore, who teach for only 17 hours per week, or teachers in Finland, who teach for a total of 21 hours per week. Schools in these countries prioritize time for planning and collaboration, recognizing that developing and executing lessons take time and preparation.
According to a recent analysis of more than 140 school districts, the average length of a U.S. teacher’s workday is 7.5 hours. In another analysis of more than 120 school districts, the most common length of time allotted for planning was 45 minutes per day. In this short time, teachers must grade student work, plan for future lessons, engage with families, and complete necessary paperwork. As a result, teachers have little time to plan or collaborate with peers.
The squeeze for time to plan lessons and complete other administrative tasks shapes a school’s professional environment and, ultimately, affects the quality of instruction. In a recent survey from the American Federation of Teachers, one of teachers’ two most cited “everyday stressors” was time pressure. As teachers are largely separate from other educators during instruction, lack of time for collaboration can be very isolating. More than half of lower secondary school teachers in the United States report that they do not teach jointly or observe other teachers. Such practices can improve teaching quality by granting teachers opportunities to receive feedback on their lesson execution and infuse new best practices into their repertoire.”
As the NM PED and the NM Legislative Education Study Committee (LESC) signal that they plan to increase instructional time for all New Mexican public school students, the ATF calls on them to consider the importance of adding adult time into the equation so that our educators have the time to plan for world-class lessons and learning programs.
On January 17, 2023, the State Legislature will convene for the 60-Day Session. Your union will keep you informed on how extended learning time and other issues shape up. As always, we will advocate for the improvement of working conditions for all public education employees. Specifically, we will open conversations about how extended instructional time, if it is to be successful, must be accented with increased adult time. That’s because we know that educators’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions.
Stay tuned into your union’s communications as the 60-Day session unfolds.