Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Focus on Teachers: Finding Teachers Time

June 27, 2014

As summer is suddenly upon us, I want to recognize the great work of so many teachers during this past school year.  If you haven’t already, stop and thank a teacher— your own, your child’s or, for those of us in the education field, a colleague.

In my Focus on Teachers blog series, I’ve highlighted and shared some of the terrific practices we are seeing across the country.  There are many teachers, such as Sheri McPherson in Kentucky, who are designing and implementing rigorous student assignments.  Or others, such as math teacher Christa Lemily, who are trying new instructional strategies to meet the needs of students.  And more and more, we are seeing teachers, such as David Wees in New York, who are collaborating with colleagues via social media.  There are also many educators who are taking on new instructional leadership roles while demanding that part of their time be spent as a classroom teacher.

These Focus on Teachers educators are just a few of the teachers who are expertly leading their students, schools and districts through the transition to the Common Core State Standards and college and career readiness. 

Of course, gratitude and recognition are not enough.  Here at the foundation, we continually ask teachers – through surveys, the ECET2 convenings, our teacher advisory board, school visits and informal conversations—what they need to make the job of teaching do-able.

And, inevitably, the issue of time always comes up.  Teachers tell us that they want more time to share strategies, plan lessons, observe each other’s classes, look at student work and support each other.  Teachers also feel that time spent learning from each other about instruction is one of the most effective and relevant professional development available.

Accordingly, the foundation issued a challenge, dubbed the Innovative Professional Development (iPD) Challenge, for districts to reimagine teacher professional development, specifically addressing:

  • Optimizing resources such as time,
  • Teacher ownership and engagement,
  • Supportive district policies,
  • Collective and individualized learning opportunities,
  • Access to high quality content as a teacher needs it, and
  • Building leadership capacity

We are now working with 14 districts and charter management organizations that are developing promising models for how schools can organize their day to best support teacher collaboration and opportunities for deep student learning.

You can read about two different iPD models that were designed and implemented by teacher teams in secondary schools this past year—one model by Fresno Unified School District, CA and one by Bridgeport Public Schools, CT.  Both models have sought to:

  1. Create classroom conditions better for teaching and learning.
  2. Engage students in deep learning opportunities with expert teachers during their course teachers' professional development time.
  3. Ensure professional development is relevant and real.

Moreover, both models were created within the given district budgets –not by adding additional funding.

We are excited about what Fresno and Bridgeport teachers are saying about their new iPD models.  We will be dedicating the next few Focus on Teachers blog posts to telling their stories.  Stay tuned….

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