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Opinion, Promising Practices, Teaching

A non-classroom day?

Could a change of scenery be as good as...professional development?

It’s the first Saturday of Spring Break, and I’ve just spent the past couple of hours catching up on some reading and writing that has been stored in the favourites section of my twitter account. (Twitter favourites are now the virtual equivalent to my bedside table!)

One blog post that caught my eye was written by Dwight Carter, principal of a 2400 student secondary school in the U.S. Carter had heard about the idea of a no-office day for administrators–a day where principals and vice-principals unchain themselves from their desks and their computers and have time to get out into the halls and classrooms of their schools. I love the email that Carter sent his staff to announce his intentions:

NO OFFICE DAY- In order to visit more classrooms, I am having a NO OFFICE DAY on Friday, February 4. I will not be in my office the entire day (unless there is an emergency). I’ll see you around!

Throughout the day, Carter used his mobile phone to communicate with his Twitter followers about what he was seeing and experiencing. A positive and eye-opening experience!

Beyond wishing for this experience for the administrators at my own school, Carter’s post got me thinking about a time in our own district where, as teachers, we were encouraged to visit other teachers. There was an infrastructure of coverage in place where we could have a substitute come in to cover our day while we spent time either in our own school, or at another school in the district.

It was an experience of collegiality before the time where we needed to talk a whole lot about collegiality. If I knew of a teacher that had a dynamite writing program or an innovative arts approach, I could arrange to spend time observing, chatting and learning. If I knew about an engaging social studies program across the district, I could go and see it.

Dwight Carter’s commitment to the idea of a non-office day got my imaginative juices flowing to the point where I’m wondering whether there are any school districts around the country that  have this type of option built into their professional development plan for administrators or for teachers. If so, I would love to hear about it!

Here’s a brief and rather modest proposal that might act as a placeholder for some more robust conversation about a non-classroom day for teachers.

What if teachers were to negotiate a clause in our teaching contracts that would allow us to dedicate one day per term for a non-classroom day? The day could be jointly funded by professional development monies maintained by the teachers’ association/district and the teacher’s own sick day allotment. Participating teachers could make use of a variety of methods for reflecting on the experience (written reflection, blog entry, podcast) in order that the learning is recorded for use in teacher portfolios and group P.D. archives.

I’m not sure if my experience is similar to that of other educators across the country, but I have found that much of what is currently done in the name of teacher professional development at the district level and beyond is governed and controlled by an agenda that sees better test results as a key indicator of success. There are plenty of experts available to come into our schools to tell us what we should be doing in terms of best practice but this is seldom accompanied by opportunities to go and see it working in real classrooms with real teachers and real students!

Watching beautifully-edited video clips of guided reading, critical thinking and mathematical problem solving may be enough to inspire some teachers to go out and learn more. Polished books and articles may contain important insights about certain approaches, but they are a poor cousin to actually spending extended periods of time in environments where colleagues are working—sometimes struggling– to implement a particular approach, method or strategy.

I’m wondering whether a non-classroom day might be one way to build a renewed sense of self-directed collegiality back into the profession.

If you already have access to this type of opportunity, I would love to know how it works. If not, would this be something that you would find helpful?

A non-classroom day! Could a change of scenery be as good as—professional development?