A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

Prisoners of Time: Research - September 1994

Chapter Four - Give Teachers the Professional Time and Opportunities They Need to Do Their Jobs

The Commission's study of time and learning in schools clearly and consistently points to a need for more and better time for teacher learning. Teachers must have time to master their subjects, design learning experiences for students that will lead to the achievement of rigorous academic standards, use improved assessment systems, better prepare for teaching their students, and work with and learn from colleagues and others with particular kinds of expertise.

To lock teachers into the existing system, which defines a teacher's professional activity almost solely as the time spent in front of students in classrooms, is to guarantee failure. As the Commission noted, "The whole question of teachers and time needs to be rethought in a serious and systematic way" (NECTL, 1994, p. 36).

The critical issues are how much more time is needed by teachers and how should they use that time. This chapter will summarize what we know from research about the need for additional time and discuss a number of factors that must be considered when additional time is provided for the professional development of teachers.

As with student learning, research suggests that there is a tendency for educators and the public to choose superficial solutions to the issues surrounding teacher learning. For example, most of the press coverage in the first month after the release of Prisoners of Time focused on extending the school day or school year for students--the relatively simple idea of providing more time. A much smaller percentage of the press coverage focused on the design flaw inherent in the structure of schools--the more complex idea of determining why more time is needed and what kind of time should be provided.

How are we currently thinking about teacher time? The most popular strategy suggested by the current reform movement is to provide more time for teachers to collaborate with each other. The assumption is that groups of teachers in schools can generate solutions to the problems facing them and their students by sharing their collective knowledge and experience.

While this strategy is appealing intuitively, research suggests that the potential impact of teacher collaboration on student learning will be achieved only when other factors are seriously taken into consideration. This chapter will summarize the types of factors that must be considered as states and school districts grapple with the question of how much more time is needed and how that time should be used.

The following questions will be addressed:

  1. Why is the concept of continuous professional development so essential?

  2. What do we know about the amount of time teachers need?

  3. Is there really a problem with the knowledge, skills, and perspectives teachers bring to the classroom?

  4. What must be understood about the culture of schools if we are to change teaching behavior?

  5. Why is there a critical need to be clear about the purposes for additional teacher collective time?

Why is the Concept of Continuous Professional Development So Essential?

One of the problems noted by the Commission is the generally held belief that the "only valid use of teachers time is 'in front of the class,' the assumption that reading, planning, collaboration with other teachers, and professional development are somehow a waste of time" (NECTL, 1994, p. 17). This belief ignores the fact that building good teaching practices, like building anything of great worth, requires a substantial investment of time.

The list of things teachers need to know and be able to do in order to be effective in teaching today's student is longer and more complex than at any time in our nation's history. For example, we are asking them to restructure the entire teaching and learning process to insure that all students learn to high levels. We are asking them to acquire much more in-depth understanding of subject matter and pedagogy. We are asking them to teach students with characteristics and needs that they may have not encountered before--students they may not know how to teach (McLaughlin & Talbert, 1992). We are asking them to be actively involved in organizational change through participatory management. In short, we are asking them to do many things they may not know how to do and have little time and opportunity to learn.

Some of the things teachers need to know can be learned through improved preparation in teacher education programs; there is some evidence that important changes are being considered or made in some of these programs (Recruiting New Teachers, Inc., 1993). However, we need opportunities for teachers already in the workforce to upgrade their skills, and we need opportunities for all teachers to continue to learn.

One of the problems we face in redesigning professional development is the fact that there is no body of research that can tell us exactly what to do and how to do it. We do know, however, where many of the problem areas lie and what has not worked before. While many of the problems are addressed in more depth in this chapter, a few examples will be highlighted here to give a sense of the scope of the challenge for effective professional development.

For example, one researcher noted, "Many teachers are likely to agree with the reform idea in the abstract, but in practice, are likely to question the wisdom of practices such as spending an entire class on one problem (too inefficient), or engaging students in a complex discussion of a topic (it confuses them), or of engaging students in experimentation (it leads to misbehavior)" (Kennedy, 1992, p. 94). Similarly, teachers may understand the importance of teaching complex problem-solving skills in a course, but lack exposure to classroom organizational techniques that support critical thinking and independent student inquiry.

We know that teachers frequently complain that the limited in-service training time they are given is rarely enough to help them improve their teaching practices in any meaningful way (Kilpatrick, 1992, p. 48). We know that teachers spend the bulk of their day in their classrooms practicing what they already know. We know that the time teachers can invest in instructional improvement is minimal; one survey of high school teachers found that 46 percent of them spend less than one hour a month in meetings planning curriculum and instruction, and another 30 percent spend only between 1 and 5 hours per month in such meetings (Moles, 1988, p. 87).

We also know that low priority is placed on professional development by American schools in direct contrast to Asian and some European philosophies about teacher training. In Asia, for example, "there is a systematic effort to pass on the accumulated wisdom of teaching practice to each new generation of teachers by providing for continuing professional interaction of teachers" (Stevenson & Stigler, 1992, p. 92). In visits to Japan and Germany, the Commission found that teachers in Japan typically are in front of a class of students four periods a day. In Germany, teachers are in class with students for 21 to 24 hours per week, while they work approximately 38 hours per week. The remainder of their time is used for other aspects of their professional work including planning and working with colleagues to improve learning for students.

As indicated earlier, there is much work to be done to design effective professional development, and while there is no clear recipe, it is important to build on what we have learned. The remainder of this chapter will summarize key questions and findings examined by the Commission in making its recommendations about professional development.

What Do We Know About the Amount of Time Teachers Need?

Estimates of the additional amount of time needed by teachers varies depending on what is to be accomplished. To some extent, research in this area is limited because we cannot study what has not been tried. For example, common sense tells us that teachers will need more time to learn how to translate the rigorous standards being developed in core academic subjects into classroom practice. However, we do not yet know how much learning time will be required for teachers to make our goals a reality.

Nevertheless, some research has been conducted on the time needed for teachers to implement innovative programs and practices. In Time forReform (1992), Purnell and Hill summarize estimates of teacher time needed for reform from a number of different sources:

Research on teachers use of technology also provides a glimpse into the amount of time teachers need to learn to teach in new and more effective ways. For example, teachers can reasonably learn how to integrate computer-based drill-and-practice exercises into their repertoire of teaching strategies in a year or less. However, it may take five or six years for teachers to learn to use technology in ways that support higher-order thinking skills, decision making, collaboration, etc. (Sheingold & Hadley, 1990, p. 44).

We do not know, however, whether less time would be required if teachers had a thorough understanding of the structure of the disciplines they teach or if they were given guidance in using technology productively. Studies show that the majority of teachers who do use computers and telecommunications technologies in the classroom are self-taught because appropriate professional development and support is virtually nonexistent in schools (Honey & Henriques, 1993, p. 44).

Is There Really a Problem with the Knowledge, Skills, and Perspectives Teachers Bring to the Classroom?

One of the most obvious factors in the success of any worker is the knowledge, skills, and perspectives he or she brings to the effort. If we expect teachers to play a significant role in improving teaching and learning, we must consider whether the teachers in a school collectively have the knowledge, skills, and perspectives needed to address the problems they face.

Little (1990) pinpoints the heart of the problem when she says, "Under some circumstances, greater contact among teachers can be expected to advance the prospects for students' success; in others, to promote increased teacher-to-teacher contact may be to intensify norms unfavorable to children" (p. 524). Little goes on to say:

Bluntly put, do we have in teachers' collaborative work the creative development of well-informed choices, or the mutual reinforcement of poorly informed habit? Does teachers' time together advance the understanding and imagination they bring to their work, or do teachers merely confirm one another in present practice...Are there collaborations that in fact erode teachers' moral commitments and intellectual merit (p. 525).
The point is not to delay reform activities until teachers and others in a school develop some ideal set of knowledge, skills, and perspectives. Rather, it is important to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the people in schools to provide a basis for generating mechanisms that will enhance and further develop the qualities schools need in their staffs.

As states and schools throughout the nation establish high rigorous academic learning standards for all students, it becomes increasingly important for teachers to have a solid grounding in subject matter content. In a recent study, researchers at the National Center for Research on Teacher Education found that "elementary and secondary teachers frequently lack connected, conceptual understandings of the subject matters they are expected to teach" (McDiarmid, 1992, p. 1).

A number of researchers (Greeno, 1993; Shulman, 1987; Stodolsky, 1988) have argued that we must move from the teaching of tedious facts to teaching for understanding. McLaughlin and Talbert (1992) note that teaching for understanding requires "pedagogical content knowledge" (p. 3), "knowledge not simply of a subject area, but also of how to teach it--how to select, represent, and organize information, concepts, and procedures...so that subject matter knowledge can be transformed into teaching for understanding" (p. 3).

One logical solution to teachers' inadequate content knowledge has been to require more courses in the subject matter they teach. For example, some reformers of higher education argue that prospective teachers should complete a four-year liberal arts program and a year of professional teacher training. The assumption is that teachers will develop a solid grounding in their subject matter and would be able not only to teach students a set of "facts" related to the subject, but also the concepts and theories necessary for students to think about and use what they learn.

However, there is growing evidence that this approach may not produce the results we desire. For example, Boyer (1987) found that college teachers lecture and college students have few opportunities to learn how to clarify positions or challenge ideas. Durkin and Barnes (1986) found the emphasis in most college courses to be on "lower-level and convergent types of cognitive operations" (Durkin & Barnes, 1986, p. 763). Perkins (1986) found that students' reasoning skills do not appear to improve between the time they begin and complete college.

Ball (1988) found that many college students, "including people who were majoring in mathematics, had difficulty working below the surface of so called simple mathematics" (Ball, 1988, p. 20-21). She noted that college students "could perform the procedures, [but] lacked understanding of the content" (Ball, 1988, p. 21). In her comparison of math majors and non-math majors, Ball found that "math majors, who had obviously taken more mathematics courses and knew more 'stuff' did not have a substantial advantage in explaining and connecting underlying concepts, principles, and meanings" (Ball, 1988, p. 22).

In short, prospective teachers do not appear to be developing the kinds of content knowledge understandings that will be required to implement rigorous standards for learning--at least not in liberal arts colleges. The significance of this finding is further compounded by the fact that "the subject matter preparation of teachers is rarely the central focus of any phase of teacher education" (Ball, 1988, p. 22).

McDiarmid (1992) summarizes the situation as follows:

The current reform trend may produce more teachers who log more seat-time in arts and science courses. But will they know more about the subject matter they must teach? And will what they learn about the subject matters sustain them in helping diverse students learn? From the evidence on student learning in the arts and sciences, it ain't necessarily so (p. 24).

What Must Be Understood About the Culture of Schools If We Are to Change Teaching Behavior?

Another critical issue that must be considered when more time is provided for teachers to engage in school reform is the culture of the school. In addition to the skills or knowledge which tend to be primarily technical, the "culture" of a school has significant elements that are philosophical, political and emotional. Culture refers to the accepted way of living with others in a group and to the mix of beliefs, values, and norms held by the group.

The culture of most schools in the United States leaves teachers isolated and does not encourage them to work with others in solving problems or improving student learning. As Joyce, Bennet, & Rolheiser-Bennet, (1990) suggest:

The culture of the school has proved to be a very tough customer indeed. Proposals both for the "empowerment" of teachers and for an increase in the use of the knowledge base in education depend on the realization of a radically revised workplace with very different relationships among teachers and much greater attention to the application of knowledge than is the norm in educational settings today (p. 34).
Failure to take into account the power of the school culture in change efforts is a recurring theme in the evaluation of change efforts. Two powerful examples follow.

The first example involves Theodore Sizer's Coalition of Essential Schools. The coalition, which includes more than 400 schools nationwide provides a clear set of principles for schools to use in designing their programs. Muncey and McQuillan (1993), who conducted a five year ethnographic study of eight of the Coalition of Essential Schools sites concluded that "schoolwide reform will be very difficult to accomplish" (p. 487). They found the following:

In Sizer's schools, the changes attempted "activated latent political tensions or heightened new ones and sometimes created new factions" (Muncey & McQuillan, 1993, p. 489). Faculty members "often found themselves isolated, exhausted, and discouraged" (Muncey & McQuillan, 1993, p. 489). While the principles put forth by the Coalition were sound in a technical sense, the results of the evaluation suggest that the culture of the school was not taken into consideration to the extent needed.

A second study (Hargreaves, 1992) examined the effects of providing additional release time for elementary school teachers in Ontario, Canada to collaborate on school improvement. Through contract negotiations, elementary school teachers were given approximately 120 minutes per week away from students in preparation time. The additional time was found to "alleviate stress and increase the opportunities for the planning and preparation of more creative work" (p. 98).

However, four "perversities" of additional preparation time also were identified. First, increased preparation time did "not necessarily enhance the process of association, community, and collegiality among teachers" (Hargreaves, 1992, p. 98). The increased preparation time was considered too "precious" and "scarce" to "fritter" away in discussions with colleagues (Hargreaves, 1992, p. 99).

Second, while the teachers "appreciated" the additional time they had received, an "important minority" of the teachers did not want the further amounts of time for which their federations were fighting in order to move closer to the working conditions of high school teachers. They were concerned about being away from their students too much and the effect it would have on the quality of service being provided (Hargreaves, 1992, pp. 99-100).

Third, when "substitute" teachers came into their classes to cover the periods of released time, the regular classroom teachers preferred arrangements where the "substitute" teachers handled self-contained areas of instruction such as music or foreign language. They did not want to share responsibility with the "substitute" teachers, because "sharing classes where both teachers' expertise in the chosen subject was adequate or strong... exposed differences and raised doubts about whose expertise might be weaker--doubts the teachers preferred to keep suppressed" (Hargreaves,1992, p. 101).

Fourth, where collegiality did exist, it was more often "contrived" than real. Teachers were scheduled and administratively required to meet with colleagues. Hargreaves notes that "collaborative cultures" are a relatively rare occurrence (Hargreaves, 1992, p. 103).

The two studies described above point to the power of school culture. So important is the culture of schools that Fullan and Stiegelbauer (1991) note, "One of the great mistakes over the past 30 years has been the naive assumption that involving some teachers on curriculum committees or in program development would facilitate implementation, because it would increase acceptance by other teachers" (p. 127). Fullan and Stiegelbauer go on to say: "Change is a highly personal experience -- each and every one of the teachers who will be affected by change must have the opportunity to work through this experience in a way in which the rewards at least equal the cost" (p. 127).

Why Is There a Critical Need to be Clear About the Purposes for Additional Teacher Collective Time?

Research suggests that another potential problem that may undermine the value of collaborative time for teachers is a focus on the collaboration itself rather than the reason for the collaboration. For example, many schools throughout the nation have attempted to implement site-based decision making models.

In schools where site-based decision making models are implemented, the goal has been to establish structures that encourage teachers to influence the functions schools perform on the assumption that their influence ultimately will lead to improved student performance. How effective have site-based decision making initiatives been? One group of researchers (Malen, Ogawa, & Kranz, 1991) who reviewed the literature on site-based decision making concluded that there is "little evidence that [site-based decision making] alters influence relationships, renews school organizations, or develops the qualities of academically effective schools" (p. 289). Johnson and Boles (1992) who conducted an extensive review of research on site-based decision-making note the following:

Before 1990, those who reviewed the school-based management literature would likely have declared the reform a failure, for there was little evidence of positive outcomes, particularly in increased learning for students. Even now, with some more encouraging findings emerging about the implementation of school-based management in several districts, prospects for success remain murky (p. 5).
Given these findings, some might argue that site-based management is an ineffective strategy. However, the research suggests that it may not be the strategy of site-based management that is ineffective. The failure of site-based management to reach its potential may be more a function of the lack of a clear focus on the purposes for implementing the strategy, and naive assumptions about the time required or the kinds of skills and knowledge required to use the strategy successfully.

For example, a number of researchers point to the need for time and professional development for teachers participating in site-based decision making and the inadequate training often provided (Malen et al., 1991, p. 309; Wehlage, Smith, Lipman, 1992, p. 76). Other researchers warn that site-based management may lead to negative effects for students if teachers do not have the necessary knowledge or desire to focus on improving student learning (Murphy, 1989, p. 808). Johnson notes, "School-site councils can make new decisions, control their budgets and reorganize their schools without improving children's learning" (Johnson, 1992, p. 7).

While most researchers report that teachers lack the time to participate effectively in site-based management, the ability of teachers to use the time they do have is critical. Wehlage, Smith, and Lipman conclude that "simply providing the time to meet...[is] no guarantee that teachers would know how to work together in ways likely to result in more engaging curriculum and improved student performance" (1992, p. 76).

Johnson (1992) suggests that site-based management will not work for the benefit of students unless teachers acquire two types of knowledge, knowledge associated with running organizations such as "how to organize meetings, how to reach consensus, or how to develop budgets," and "knowledge about teaching, learning, and curriculum" (p. 22). Finally, Johnson notes that "there is considerable evidence that a teacher's commitment to restructuring is enhanced by opportunities for continued learning about subject matter and pedagogy, particularly when staff development is embedded in practice" (p. 25).

As more and more schools move to collaborative structures, lessons from past efforts should be taken into consideration. Currently, many teachers' new-found "empowerment" has focused on issues unrelated to curriculum and instruction and therefore has had little effect on student learning. Research suggests that schools and the teachers in them need to be clear about the purposes for collaboration and use available opportunities to move closer to their goals. They also need opportunities to learn how to do the work we expect of them.

[Chapter Three - Keep Schools Open Longer to Meet the Needs of Children and Communities] [Table of Contents] [The Unanswered Questions]