Small Change = Big Gains


(In this post, I am simply thinking out loud. This idea has been running in my mind for quite some time now, and I’ve had many great discussions about it with superintendents, principals, teachers and parents. I would love to know what you think !)

One of the biggest challenges that I faced as a principal was to constantly try to protect the time teachers and students had in the classroom, or “teaching time”. Throughout the years, lost time for classroom instruction has always been a major concern for teachers and a source of much stress. Some of the reasons for this loss of teaching time were: professional development during regular school days, Professional Development Days (students are not at school), PLC meetings – all necessary pedagogical activities, but unfortunately take teachers away from their students.

I’ve often asked myself the following questions: how can we overcome this obstacle ? Can we think outside the box and find a solution that would be a win-win situation for both school staff and students ? How can we achieve this within our present school structure that basically dates back to 1892 when it was first conceived by the Committee of Ten ?

Small change…BIG GAINS !

Lets do a short pedagogical inventory of the reasons why a teacher would not be in class with his or her students:

  • Professional Development Days
  • Pedagogical team meetings (PLC, Leaders, Collaborative Inquiry Meeting, etc.)
  • Committee meetings (academically struggling students, behavior, etc.)
  • Professional development (during regular school days)

Looking at these types of activities, one question kept ringing in my mind: would it be possible to do the majority if not all of these activities without losing any time with students in the classroom ?

During my many discussions about this, a common idea would almost always prevail: what if we had one hour at the end of every day to collaborate as a team after the students had left school  ?

What would that look like ?

Lets say we work in an elementary school in which the school day begins at 8:45 am and ends at 3:10 pm. On most days, the «departure» routine (bus, parents picking up) is finished by 3:30 pm, which would give us from 3:30 pm to 4:30 pm, each and every day, to do, for example:

  • Professional development
  • Teacher-lead professional learning
  • Pedagogical team meetings (to plan, evaluate, share, collaborate)
  • Committee meetings (academic, intervention, Christmas concert committee)

By carefully planing out these pedagogical activities from September to June, the principal and teachers could collaborate during this time to achieve the goals set out in their school improvement plan, as well as everyone’s professional improvement plan. One hour each and every day without having to find substitutes, without the teachers losing precious prep time, but most of all without losing a minute of instruction with students in the classroom.

Don’t get me wrong, I am well aware that some of these activities already go on after students have gone home at the end of the day. However, this usually is not a “dedicated time ” each and every day, officially. Its usually left to the discretion of the individual, therefor we can’t really plan for the long-term and establish objectives.

Obviously, each person would not have a scheduled activity each day ! During the days that they don’t, each person would decide which pedagogical activity they would want to do during that hour. It could be:

  • revising assignments
  • planing lessons
  • working on report cards
  • coaching a team
  • participating in school clubs
  • professional learning/networking


What would the advantages and disadvantages for teachers, principals and students be if a school adopted this kind of structure ? What would it look like in a secondary school ? Could this type of structure bring about a positive change for students and staff in our schools ?


2 thoughts on “Small Change = Big Gains

  1. Because of extra curricular activities- personal if one has children and needs to escort them from their school to the next activity, and extra curricular activities at the school where the teachers may be running a sports program or any after school club- daily reviews might not be possible. However there are many strong points being made in your interesting blog posting.

    That teachers may not enjoy a professional development day or meeting can be accurate but when the PD day is filled with actions that teachers may share and apply many actually find the day to have been invigorating. Then there is the idea of making it less formal and having a brown bag event – everyone planning to attend and to share ideas specific to the school- very effective if planning a themed event for whole school participation- such as this current Black History month of February where a meeting for whole staff could see that whole school participates…

    do share with us what transpires at your school…

    Ali in Toronto

    1. Thanks for your comment Alison. Differentiating during PD days is being talked about a lot. I think we need to be innovative when planing PD or PL, include teachers in the decision making process, ask them what is best to meet their needs.

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