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Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Big Sleep: Realistic Expectations and Patterns for Teaching Well

I know I say it again and again, but sufficient rest is essential to teaching well--there's no way around it.

Too often educators get exhausted. It's the pace of the day, the constant needs, and the limitless expectations and potential the job holds that make it a tiring profession.

Good planning, positive routines, optimal pacing, and sufficient support all contribute to a realistic schedule where educators can get enough rest.

What really tired me out this year was the stretch I did in the professional learning realm to develop my practice this year--there were a lot of stretches that resulted in some significant exhaustion which then dominoed into acts that cried, "You need more sleep!"

As I think about this and think about the needs for educators to continually update their professional learning and repertoire, I think we can do a better job with time overall to support both well rested and energized practice as well as deep and forward moving research and development.

How might we do this?

Professional Learning Time
First, I think that educational organizations need to understand that professional learning and development are part of the job and not just on-your-own-time endeavors. It's critical that time is carved out to support teacher's professional learning. As it stands now many teachers are spending considerable time on weekends, nights, mornings, and during the summer updating their professional credentials to teach better. Now, I do think some time in summer is well invested in this endeavor. I also don't mind spending some time on weekends, mornings, and before school--but it adds up, and it's important that some significant time is spent during work time to learn in meaningful ways (Much of the in-school learning time is not impactful as demonstrated by many studies and teachers' experiences, and that needs to change)

Time for Feedback, Response, and Review
Next, it's critical to look at the amount of time teachers are expected to work outside of the work day. For example project work for a large group of students can take an entire weekend day to review in a meaningful way. When that happens it means that a teacher is working a six-day work week. I think we have to be realistic about what good teaching involves and use time wisely in response to this. I think we have to retire some old time expectations in order to make more room for meaningful, new efforts that impact students with strength. I'll be thinking more about how to do this in the days ahead, but for today, Sunday, I'll tackle a host of student projects as I work to coach each child to mastery with the project.

Significant Time for Parent Conferences and Communication
As it stands now many teachers are working significant overtime to prepare for and participate in parent conferences. Some time is given for these meetings, but the time given for the meetings outweighs the significant before and after school time teachers are using to attend IEP meetings and typical parent conferences. In the old days, these meetings were short 20-minute teacher-driven reports, but now they are a much deeper exchange that often involve the child and multiple other teachers as we collaborate around what a child has done and goals for that child's support and efforts.

A close look at the elementary teacher's day and expectations may signify the need for substantial change in order to update what we can do realistically and well to support every child while also giving teachers substantial time to develop their craft, respond to student learning, and get the rest and personal time they need to teach well.