Did a 9th grader just solve one of the most intransigent obstacles to school innovation? I think so! It is a simple, elegant, easy way to create large blocks of time for faculty to collaborate on their own professional development and growth. Read on and send comments; is there a hidden thorn in this rose I don’t see?
Two weeks ago I asked a group of 9th graders to observe and journal on how learning takes place at All Saints’ Episcopal School in Ft. Worth. After a short campus walk the students itemized their observations and then pitched ideas to the group about how learning might be more closely tied to their own lives and objectives. I have reported on their remarkable insights, but one stood out and I have subsequently run the idea by a number of colleagues. Is this the no-brainer we have been overlooking?
Many of our classrooms at all grade levels are becoming project-based, and good projects are designed to include time for student collaboration, research, making, designing, building, and creating. What if we just aligned the days and times when many classes were doing this kind of largely independent work? What if, say, every other Thursday for a half-day, all or many classes at the school had “project time”? A very few faculty could supervise a large number of students during these collaborative work times, releasing the rest for large, frequent blocks of professional growth time.
Yesterday I pitched the idea to the team who will be opening the new K-8 Design 39 Campus in Poway, CA next year. Their heads exploded with understanding of the upside of this plan. Merely be getting teachers to align when they provide students time for major periods of collaboration, they will radically increase professional development time. Nothing is taken out of the curriculum; time is created by alignment.
Obstacles? If your school has many small blocks of teaching time the alignment will be slightly more complex than if you have longer teaching blocks. Younger students will probably need more adult supervision than older students. I can’t think of any others, but maybe you can; please pass them along.
Upside? Many faculty with large blocks of free time to frequently work across silos. The D39C team may set a goal of half the faculty freed up for a half-day every two weeks. One of the ideas I shared with Dave Ostroff at All Saints’: get several nearby schools on the same schedule and create interscholastic PD blocks.
I have gathered more than 1,200 “What if…?” questions from educators, students, and parents over the last 9 months. This is in the top five. Time for PD is the most commonly cited obstacle to school innovation. Ask your teachers: would you be willing to flex your alignment of student-led project time if it meant a half-day every two weeks of authentic professional growth? I am confident of the response!