Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

The Time Dilemma in School Restructuring

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

The Time Dilemma in School Restructuring

Article excerpt

What have schools involved in restructing done to address the problem of time? And which of these strategic apply to other schools in similar circumstances? Mr. Watts and Ms. Castle provide some answers to these questions.

TIME, OR more properly lack of it, is one of the most difficult problems faced by schools and districts engaged in restructuring. Our experience with more than a hundred experimental restructuring efforts has demonstrated to us that the frustration associated with lack of time is a matter of fundamental importance if restructuring efforts are to succeed.

Problems with time are certainly not restricted to the schools. Indeed, they are an increasingly common aspect of American culture. We have too many choices; 13,000 new products appeared in supermarkets in 1991. Time-saving devices do not actually save us time; blow dryers, for example, simply enable us to wash our hair more often. Modern technology has eliminated the pauses in life that gave us chances to catch our breath. Once, when we cooked chicken in a conventional oven, we had an hour's wait; now we cook it in a microwave oven for six minutes.

Schools, with their individual cultures and structures, face a unique set of dilemmas with regard to time. The traditional view of a teacher's work is governed by the idea that time with students is of singular value. This view rests on the premise that teachers are deliverers of content and that curricular and pedagogical planning and decision making take place at higher levels of authority. Professional development is somehow not seen as related directly to instruction.

Not surprisingly, teachers often experience guilt when they are out of the classroom. Teachers in restructuring schools have taken substitute days so that they can meet in committee. And despite the value of such meetings, many teachers still feel guilty about leaving their classes so often. "I think most teachers have mixed feelings," said a teacher in one restructuring school. "They want input into things that matter concerning teaching, but they want to be with the students during the school day."[1] The role of the teacher is being redefined to include the teacher as a professional decision maker who is knowledgeable and reflective. However, if the teacher's role is to change, our thinking about how a teacher's time is organized must change as well.

Schedules must be made more flexible. A teacher who was visiting our office for a meeting said, "The schedule is God. You can implement any innovation you want in your classroom as long as you don't mess with the schedule." Traditional, inflexible scheduling is based on administrative and institutional needs. New, more flexible scheduling patterns are based on pedagogical practices, the educational needs of students, and the professional needs of teachers.

There is a traditional assumption that teachers have to be managed. Teachers have not been trusted to use their noninstructional time wisely and so have had virtually no control over their time or its use. However, studies have shown that the managerial model is antithetical to the job of teaching.[2] The increasingly recognized need for teachers to be involved in all parts of the process of school change has put greater pressures on teachers' time. It calls for a shift from administrators to teachers of control over the structuring of time.[3]

In working with its Mastery in Learning Project and other school improvement efforts for the past eight years, the National Education Association's National Center for Innovation has had extensive opportunities to study the practicalities of transforming schools. One clear finding that has emerged from these efforts is that faculty development is necessary to student empowerment. And faculty development takes time; time to collaborate, communicate, ponder, and reflect with others is essential. "The most important resource for improvement," write Tom Bird and Judith Warren Little, "is time with colleagues: time for [faculties] to examine, debate, and improve their norms of civility, instruction, and improvement. …

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