Scheduling for Maximum Collaboration

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By Scott Sterling

We’ve already talked about the importance of collaboration among teachers and the components that make for an effective professional learning community (PLC). Everyone knows you need to work with fellow teachers for maximum student achievement.

The problem, as most teachers and administrators report, is a lack of time.

A teacher’s planning periods are sacred; otherwise, everything from formative assessment to deliberate practice falls apart. The federal government and states mandate a certain number of school days per year and a certain amount of hours in each school day. The budget for substitute teachers shrinks every year. It takes some creativity to work around these parameters.

You might think that this is just a discussion for administrators—those who have the power to create a school’s schedule—but teachers fall into this process as well. After all, they are the only ones who know what would be most effective for them, and which blocks of time they are willing to devote to collaboration.

The first step: commit to a manageable PLC

You might think that creating a schedule would be the first step, but instead you need to budget for time. There are certain components that go into an effective PLC meeting, which we’ve discussed and will probably visit again in the near future, since collaboration is so important for teacher effectiveness. Anything in addition to these components should be avoided.

The more streamlined a meeting, the less time is needed for the meeting. In most schedules, anything more than a class period is unworkable and probably won’t fit consistently into the agenda.

Who needs to be there?

Some people would argue that PLCs should be made up primarily of grade-level teams that share students, whereas others argue that they should comprise subject-area groups. Everyone thinks that administrators should make an appearance.

The correct answer, of course, is all of the above:

  • Grade-level teams can work on multidisciplinary plans and discuss organizational, procedural, and disciplinary approaches they want to see implemented across the grade.
  • Subject-area PLCs can share common lessons and focus on subject-specific practices.


Approaches of other schools

Elementary schools tend to find PLC time in concurrent “specials” scheduling, ensuring that all students of the desired PLC are taking art, music, gym, and so forth, at the same time. It might not be uniform across the groups, but it does allow for consistency and regular weekly meetings.

A current trend for everyone, but particularly for secondary schools, is to hold weekly or monthly early-release or late-arrival days. However, once a week can be overkill and inconveniences parents.

A concerted use of substitute teachers can also be effective at certain, less regular intervals to facilitate PLCs and informal colleague observation. But that can take a significant chunk of budget.

Perhaps you can move the bulk of your PLC work online. We’ve shared a short list of tech tools that can facilitate collaboration here.

The best practice?

The bottom line is to figure out what you want out of the collaboration process, then brainstorm and research ways to make it happen. PLCs work best when they are regular and timely. Otherwise, changes and deliberate practice end up taking a back seat to a teacher’s daily challenges.

Next week: Planning a College and Career–Ready Lesson

Have you heard any novel approaches to PLC scheduling? Share your thoughts with your colleagues in the Comments section.

For more information about the Marzano Center’s new Essentials for Achieving Rigor initiative and how it can improve your school’s practice, check out the new Teaching for Rigor: 3 Challenges for Curriculum Directors white paper.

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