I look forward to the first Wednesday of each month in the school year, now known as PLUSS days. On these days, students arrive at 10:00 but teachers come in at 7:45. Teachers use the time to collaborate, discuss, and learn with and from each other. There is an expectation that people will use the time together to work on projects and issues that they would not otherwise have time to do. In a PK-12 school, this allows for cross-divisional work. It also facilitates interdisciplinary collaboration. The biggest challenge I have is deciding how to spend my time each month. There is a Google spreadsheet where anyone can add a conversation and everyone can see what options are available. An informal system has developed where the conversations are generally slated for one of the two hours, so that people can do more than one thing each time.
The sustained, regular time throughout the year has meant moving forward on several fronts. I have worked with a small group of teachers to look at standards-based grading and issues related to grading, as we try to move to a more effective system for feedback and evaluation of students than our percentage based grades allow. The fact that we can meet once a month and talk about our trials, innovations and experiences has helped us move forward. Along with many colleagues, I have also used the time to work with our tech educator to learn some of the core apps we will be using next year when we become a 1:1 ipad school.
We have lost one of our PLUSS day mornings this year to snow. I had to miss the most recent one to stay home with a sick child. I found myself missing the conversations, and even jealous of my colleagues when I was home and they were at school. I missed a conversation between English, history and science teachers about common standards and language for writing that I had been looking forward to. I did not get to hear about some colleagues’ latest work in standards based grading.
This model works. I have done a lot of thinking about it, and I believe there are several reasons. First, we are treated like professionals who want to learn and collaborate, and we are given the freedom to decide what is best for us on any given day. The spreadsheet allows people who are unsure what they want to do or simply want to move out of their comfort zone to find a conversation to join. Also, the fact that this is regularly scheduled time allows for sustained conversation, with time for reflection or even trial in between. It enables teachers to plan ahead; English and history teachers can look for where their content intersects and meet at a point where they can plan for the convergence. Finally, it takes place in the morning when teachers are still fresh rather than during a faculty meeting at the end of the day.
The concept is simple. Give teachers regular time to collaborate and then get out of their way. I am grateful to my administration for envisioning and implementing this.