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

The Uses of Time for Teaching and Learning - October 1996


V. Time-Related Innovations and
Teachers' Work Lives

In Chapter III, we described how the sites in this study have restructured time--both the quantity and quality--and other dimensions of school life to create effective learning conditions for students. These efforts, viewed together, suggest that education reform has many different starting points and that it can grow in many directions or fail altogether. Some focused initially on the amount of time that students spend in school, while others began with a reconstruction of existing time. In some sites, one type of innovation has led to others. In other cases, the original time-related innovation is static. In all cases, teachers are at the center of the reform efforts, either changing existing schools or creating new ones. We take their perspective in this chapter, as we look at time- related innovations and teachers' work lives.

Not surprisingly, this study has found that the implementation of time-related innovations in schools reverberates through many aspects of school life, including the professional lives--and sometimes personal lives--of the teachers who work in them. We have found that time-related innovations touch on many aspects of teachers' professional lives, including their roles and relationships, the amount of time they allocate to their work and the compensation they receive, and the additional responsibilities and personal sacrifices they expect--or are expected--to take on.

The case study data suggest four issues related to teachers' work lives in innovative schools: (1) teacher time and compensation, (2) teachers' learning needs and students' learning needs, (3) accountability and time for reform , and (4) teacher collaboration and school structure. We discuss each of these in turn in this chapter and end with some concluding observations.

Teacher Time and Compensation

Our examination of the various time-related innovations in our sites exposes a tension around what is judged to be the professional, compensated work of teachers. All of the schools in this study require teachers to serve in nontraditional roles and/or to work nontraditional amounts of time. In very few sites, however, are teachers compensated for their additional time and responsibilities. In fact, the only schools that provide teachers with extra compensation are those implementing scheduling innovations that require them to spend more time delivering formal instruction to students than their colleagues in other schools do (Timilty and Moton and Lockett).

Teachers in schools in which (1) there are significant classroom-based reforms or (2) where participatory governance was either part of the original design or introduced as an element of reform devote considerable time to learning how to teach differently, developing long-term reform plans, and serving as decisionmakers, budget analysts, personnel specialists, and liaisons to the community. At some of these schools, notably AMY, Chiron, and Hollibrook, we heard the most consistent reports of workplace stress associated with time pressures. Teachers at these schools recognize that their jobs require more time than is available during the traditional work day and that those teachers who do not acknowledge this and are not willing to volunteer substantial amounts of personal time to the school will be uncomfortable. These schools have, in a sense, established an institutionalized culture of volunteerism among teachers, a culture that is pervasive and strong enough to drive out teachers who do not subscribe to it, as we have seen at Chiron.

The residential schools and the Jesuit schools in our study involve teachers in substantial amounts of teacher-student interaction both in and out of the classroom. In addition, in several of these schools, teachers, along with everyone else in the school community, share some responsibility for maintenance and routine operations. Our data suggest that teachers in these schools work long days and receive some of the lowest compensation across the study sites. Recall, for example, that the Jesuit schools pay teachers $200 a month and that Nativity Mission makes a point of using the same staff for school and afterschool activities because the school views continuity and depth in teacher-student relationships as important. The low teacher compensation rates at residential and private schools in this study are consistent with national patterns that show private school compensation rates to be lower than those for teachers with the same qualifications and experience in public schools (Choy, Henke, Alt, & Medrich, 1993). In the residential and private schools we examined, this pattern may be based, at least in part, on a view of teaching as a form of community service (or religious calling, in the case of the Jesuit schools), on the hiring of young and often uncertified staff, and on institutionalized acceptance of teacher turnover and recruitment issues.

Compensation patterns across the innovation categories show discrepancies in the value that schools place on different uses of teachers' time. In some instances where more time is required for teachers' professional work, teachers are compensated. In other instances, they are not. These discrepancies raise important issues for education reformers about the uses of teacher time that are valued and thus should be legitimized by compensation. In schools intending to make deep changes in classroom practice or school governance, reformers must ask whether they are willing to place the burden of change on the personal time that teachers are willing to volunteer. Given the serious need and recent calls for the next generation of education reform to "reach beyond the islands where [innovation] is tried, into the broader educational system" (Elmore, 1991, p. 4), such a decision seems short-sighted.

The impressive achievement records of students who attend the residential schools in this study (discussed in Chapter III of this report), suggest that full-time living and learning environments hold promise for more wide-spread use in educating disadvantaged children. But, with this realization, the issue of adequate compensation looms large. Once again, the dilemma is how to take a proven model of educational effectiveness and "scale up." But, the size of the pool of teachers willing to work long hours for low pay is unknown.

Teacher support and willingness to "go the extra mile" without additional compensation has contributed significantly to the successful implementation of classroom-based reforms in many schools in this study. However, our data clearly suggest that a heavy reliance on volunteerism among staff is not a secure foundation on which to build expectations for the future of education reform.

Teachers' Learning Needs and Students' Learning Needs

A second cross-cutting issue involves balancing time for teacher learning and time for student learning. Focus on the improvement of student learning in all of the study sites is justified on the basis that student learning is the central mission of schools. But, student learning and teacher learning are not unrelated. Our data, particularly the data on the investments in professional development which we discussed in Chapter IV, suggest that teacher learning is especially important in schools where teachers are the chief architects and builders of reform initiatives. There, teacher learning is at the very epicenter of classroom-based reforms. Therefore, the degree to which it is overlooked or undervalued in some schools and districts is somewhat surprising. This oversight may reflect what Roland Barth describes as a misguided tendency among educators--teachers included--to view schools "as places where children learn and adults teach" (Barth, 1990, p. 50).

As we have seen, nearly every innovation examined in this study has required teachers to serve in new and different roles. Implementation of these innovations requires time and opportunity for teachers to learn new skills and knowledge to fill their new roles effectively--all while delivering services. Indeed, the teachers we interviewed at Chiron, Hollibrook, Metro, Timilty, and Wheeler said they have spent more time and effort attending to their own continuing professional development because of their participation in the quality-of-time innovations at their schools. Professional development in these cases goes well beyond traditional forms of professional development, although strategically selected formal and didactic presentations have played a part. Professional development in the context of these innovations has also meant trial-and-error attempts at new behaviors, analytic discussions with colleagues, strategic modifications in classroom practice, reflection, reanalysis, and further refining. It is through this iterative learning process that teachers become proficient in their new roles and in carrying out new tasks.

In contrast, teacher learning appears to have been less important in schools that have limited their innovations to changes in scheduling and in the residential schools and the Jesuit schools. One reason for this may be that teachers in these schools are not expected to make and sustain fundamental changes in their professional work. As organizations, these schools are relatively static, and, consequently, place a limited premium on continuous teacher learning.

Our data suggest that although student learning is the central reason schools exist, teacher learning is also critical, particularly for those who are attempting to overhaul a long-institutionalized system. Moreover, at sites where a goal or a byproduct of the reform process is an institutionalized habit of professional inquiry--innovation that is regenerative--the need for professional time to individually and collectively examine, experiment with, reflect on, assess, and refine improved conditions of teaching and learning may never cease. It may, however, lessen as new procedures for supporting faculty inquiry are institutionalized. Because the learning needs of teachers cannot be neglected if the educational reforms they are charged with crafting and achieving are to be successful, a balance of equal attention to student and teacher learning is needed.

Accountability and Time for Reform

Another issue to emerge from our interviews with teachers is that of balance between the time frames for accountability and the time frames for reform. Several of the innovations in this study, such as those carried out at Moton and Lockett Elementary Schools and Chiron Middle School, were pressured to simultaneously implement and defend the innovations' value. The teachers and principals we met in these sites argue that it is difficult enough to break established individual and organizational behaviors through school reform initiatives. The added pressure of high-stakes accountability--such as pressure to improve standardized test scores immediately--turns work into a personal liability that could, under different circumstances, be viewed as experimentation and experienced as professional growth. A teacher in California --who participated in another phase of this study--said this about her school district's efforts to implement several innovations and to demonstrate improved student achievement at the same time:

[Teachers] need time not only to accept [reform], but time also to adapt and to practice. We would never expect a student to be able to multiply a two-digit number by a two-digit number without first [helping her to develop] the necessary skills and providing her with ample time to practice. So why would we expect a teacher to successfully manage a cooperative learning group without ample opportunity to learn the skills and to practice them? `Practice' by definition involves an element of freedom of risk. It is a time for constructive feedback--by others and self--and for monitoring and adjusting without judgment and evaluation.

Similarly, the schools in the New Orleans study site did not enjoy a "safe" or "hold harmless" period in which they could break out of their mold, learn, and experiment without the pressure to produce immediate results. Moton and Lockett did not have the support they needed to be open year- round, especially during the summer when other district schools were closed. All the while, the district was gathering student test scores to track the school's progress in improving student achievement. When test scores did not improve, and continuation funds could not be garnered without hard evidence of positive effects on student achievement, the innovation was halted. The fact that the district evaluation took such a narrow view of outcomes was also disturbing to teachers.

A few of the schools in this study have found ways to protect their experimental work from accountability systems until they are ready to "go public." In some regards they are special cases; however, they are instructive as examples of successful incubators for professional growth within the context of education reform. Because reforms at Wheeler began with the combined support of the Board of Education, the superintendent, the principal, and the Gheens Foundation, the school has had the authority and resources necessary to develop and implement their time-related innovations. But before the changes could be made, the principal had to convince the faculty members that they had nothing to lose by taking action. During its two-year, self-study and experimentation period, Wheeler was given a "hold harmless" provision by the superintendent and Board of Education for the purpose of freeing them to take risks. Metro provides another example. In its early years, Metro was composed of a small group of teachers dedicated to working with students whom no one else wanted to serve: high school dropouts. According to an informed observer, "The teachers were left alone to fend for themselves. . . . The school's `invisibility,' I suspect, gave students and teachers alike a sense of autonomy." Our interviews with teachers bear this observation out. The school's early low profile seems to have protected teachers so that they could experiment. According to the district's perspective at the time, the school was out of sight and out of mind. The result was development of a cohesive and self-supportive faculty that was free to explore innovative ideas and that has produced impressive results with a hard-to-teach population. It is not clear that these schools would have fared any better under intense scrutiny in their early years than did other innovations that came to an early demise as a consequence of flat student assessment results.

Clearly, innovations must be assessed. But our data suggest that timing is important, regardless of the type of innovation. A careful look at the optimal time frame for assessment, given the nature of the innovation, would be more useful to schools engaged in reform efforts and to the wider education community that has an interest and a stake in learning about effective innovations.

Collaboration and School Structure

The experiences of the study sites engaged in classroom-based reforms and associated changes in school governance suggest that teacher collaboration facilitates school reform especially well when it emerges from teachers' work as the device of choice to help a faculty build a professional community. But, the move to implement collaborative decisionmaking--regardless of the focus--begs for change in the traditional school schedule. In most cases, time has to be reallocated to allow teachers to meet, discuss, reflect, and debate the merits and drawbacks of the issues being examined. Tensions arise when, after discovering compelling reasons for engaging in collaborative work, teachers discover that they have little control over aspects of the school that need to be adjusted in order to make collaboration possible. Our data suggest that two aspects of school structure are particularly significant in the restriction or facilitation of teacher collaboration: time and administrative skill.

Collaboration takes time. The spirit of reform and opportunities for teacher collaboration have inspired and supported many of the changes that have occurred at Hollibrook, according to faculty members. However, nearly every change that has taken place over the past several years has required teachers to volunteer more of their time, a situation that has raised the level of concern about teacher "burnout." One teacher who had been very active in collaborative school governance activities explained her reasons for reducing her involvement this way: "Time must be restructured because if you are dead on your feet, wise decisions cannot be made." At Chiron Middle School, day-to-day operations are based almost entirely on decisions made jointly by staff. Together, they have developed every aspect of the school's curricula, from deciding how subjects will be combined for interdisciplinary study to choosing the annual schoolwide theme that provides a unifying context for all curricula, and writing individual lesson plans for mixed-aged classes. Teachers work together to develop alternative assessments, the school's report card, and their professional development agenda. In addition, most classes are team taught. The main problem Chiron has faced is lack of time, according to all faculty members. The school's original design plan stipulates that the experimental school is to compete equally with other schools for district resources, despite the fact that it is a new school inventing itself as it goes. The contradiction is crippling. Teachers know they need common time away from children to accomplish their collaborative work, but they are unable to request the resource they need most: time.

As we have seen, collaboration requires teachers to have time away from their classes to work and plan with colleagues. This can be arranged, but it usually requires some combination of flexibility, resources, and volunteerism. Moreover, collaborations are relationships, and, as such, they require time for nurturing. Our data suggest that the benefits commonly associated with collaboration--such as improved effectiveness, reduced overload, increased capacity for reflection, and organizational responsiveness (Hargreaves, 1994)--do not happen instantaneously the moment joint work begins. Time is needed to explicitly and implicitly establish the terms and conditions of collaboration, to establish trust and open discourse, and to learn each teacher's absolute requirements, negotiable wishes, and communication styles. As relationships, collaborations also require maintenance, which means spending some time in behaviors that might appear, on occasion, to be "off task." This is the nature of collaborative work.

On the matter of administrative skill, our data suggest that principals, and possibly other administrators, set the tone for collaboration in a school. In schools with established collaborative practices, the principals model collaboration by sharing their responsibility and authority. The principal at Wheeler has done this by publicly working with her faculty members in exploring new conditions for teaching, learning, and assessment that could help transform the school. Tolerance for and effective management of dissension--which is inevitable when faculty members grapple with issues of educational theory, long-term plans, and the basic purposes and underlying assumptions of school practices--are also important skills of administrators in schools aspiring to collaborative cultures. At Hollibrook, for example, we observed that communication and debate are encouraged among the staff. There was evidence of a recent deliberation in the faculty conference room, where notes from a discussion about the pros and cons of year-round education were recorded on large sheets of paper posted on the conference room wall. Our data suggest that administrators and teachers there have successfully managed their joint exploration of sometimes controversial topics.

A second issue has to do with district-imposed designs to generate and facilitate teacher collaboration. Without a specific purpose that teachers can subscribe to, collaboration accomplishes little. It becomes a series of meetings in search of a raison d'etre, as we saw in the case of a district- designed, site-based decisionmaking team at Timilty.

Consideration of faculty coherence and control of hiring also weigh significantly in the scope and effectiveness of teacher collaboration. Attempting to reconcile the professional judgments of teachers with fundamentally divergent views--on the roles of teachers and students; existing and optimal conditions of teaching and learning; and means of assessing student, teacher, and school progress--increases the likelihood of dissension among faculty members. In the absence of some mutually agreed-upon principles of teaching and learning that all faculty members can subscribe to, and that can be used as the basis for determining teacher compatibility in hiring decisions, teachers will probably reproduce the individualized cultures of traditional schools.

The results of the various forms of collaborative decisionmaking in the study sites are mixed. For the most part, teachers claim that participating in shared decisionmaking groups breaks the isolation of their work, confers on them a degree of authority that is commensurate with their responsibilities, and helps the entire faculty develop a shared educational ethic and make decisions that are consistent with that ethic. On the other hand, collaborative decisionmaking requires more meetings, more time for interpersonal communication, more time to make a decision that everyone (or at least a majority) can live with, and more flexibility in time management to get everything done. These multifaceted functions demand changes in the way schools are structured. Moreover, it remains to be seen whether school flexibility in the use of teacher time for collaborative decisionmaking can survive or spring from the growth in bureaucratic designs for site-based decisionmaking that are increasingly common in education reform policies.

Concluding Observations about Teachers' Time and School Reform

These, then, are the systemic tensions around teachers' work lives that characterize the time- related innovations examined in this study. To summarize the lessons they can provide to other reform efforts, we offer the following:

Adding more time to the school day or year is an insufficient response to the time pressures experienced by teachers, regardless of the type of innovation they are attempting to implement, but additional time can facilitate the planning and implementation of classroom-based innovations. Although the most commonly expressed view about time at many of the schools in this study is that there is not enough of it, closer examination reveals that teachers want and need not just more time, but specific kinds of time, including (1) sustained time away from the stress of daily teaching responsibilities to reflect on long-term goals, assess their own progress, and work on refining their work; (2) protected time for experimentation without the pressure of evaluation; and (3) flexibility in time and curriculum decisions. To the extent that additional time is allocated to these purposes, it is a worthwhile investment.

A combination of classroom-based innovation focused on teaching and learning, plus scheduling innovation that provides time for strategic, long-term planning and reflection without shortchanging short-term planning time, promotes regenerative change better than either type of innovation alone. Reform of teaching and learning requires additional time, especially when teachers are attempting to break old behavior patterns and learn new ones. When that additional time is formalized and institutionalized as opportunities to engage in strategic long-range planning, reflection, instructional experimentation, and analytic discussion with colleagues, the result can be a culture of inquiry and improvement. Without additional structured time, classroom-based reforms place burdens on teachers that can lead to individual burnout and high faculty turnover in schools. On the other hand, scheduling innovations that do not include simultaneous commitment to innovation in curriculum and instruction have limited capacity to improve student achievement. Taken together, however, a combination of these two types of innovation can produce regenerative improvement in schools.

As the demands on teachers grow disproportionately to the resources available for meeting those demands, the possibilities for teacher burnout grow. What distinguishes the sites in this study that point to teacher burnout and high staff turnover as issues from those that did not is, among other things, the existence of a combination of resources--and their availability to teachers--for meeting the demands that time-related innovations pose. The resources include additional compensated time for collegial work apart from direct interaction with students, professional development opportunities, flexibility in time and curricular decisions, and a reasonable time frame in which to experiment before being held accountable for substantive increases in students' achievement.

Collaboration is an important source of support for teachers engaged in some but not all time-related innovations; it involves a complex set of relationships that take time and skill to develop and sustain. For teachers engaged in classroom-based reforms and participatory school governance, collaboration facilitates school reform, especially when it emerges from teachers' work as the device of choice to help a faculty cohere in its efforts to pursue and examine its own objectives as a professional community. But, collaborative decisionmaking requires changes in the traditional school schedule to permit teachers to meet, discuss, reflect on, and debate the strengths and weaknesses of their individual and collective work. Collaboration takes time, and it takes administrative skill in managing the inevitable diversity of perspectives that emerge when teachers engage in meaningful discussion about issues that are central to their work in school.
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[Resources Required to Alter the Uses of Time for Learning- Additional Structural Resources to Support Improvement]  [Table of Contents]  [Implications for Policy and Practice Regarding Education Reform]