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Data Tip #7: Finding Time for Data Inquiry

“Time for teacher collaboration is not a luxury… It is a necessity for schools that want to improve.” (Love, N., Using Data to Improve Learning for All, 2009)

Recently, teams of teachers in a Florida school district learned TERC’s Using Data process of collaborative inquiry. After their professional development sessions, these data teams returned to their schools to apply the process they had learned and dig deeper into their own data with colleagues. As this work progressed, one teacher expressed an epiphany: “I thought we were learning a quick way to 'fix' things. I now realize that this a process that takes time!”

Meaningful data analysis requires that data teams study multiple data sources to pinpoint student learning problems, find root causes for emerging problems, and launch a plan to tackle these problems. Data teams understand that there is not a 'quick fix' approach to understanding and closing learning gaps—this work takes time.

For most schools, finding time to build a culture of data inquiry requires rethinking how time is allocated during the school day and the school year. Some ideas include creative use of specialists, block scheduling, reallocation of teacher contract time, quarterly release-time for data teams, and summer data retreats. Following are some ideas and strategies for maximizing time for data use:

Take Action to Find Time*

Freed-up time. This strategy entails freeing teachers from their regular instructional time to participate in data-focused professional development or data-analysis activities. It is achieved by hiring substitute teachers or by recruiting administrators, parents, or other volunteers to serve as subs. Volunteers can also cover teachers’ recess and lunch duties.

Restructured or rescheduled time. This solution requires a formal alteration of the instructional time—the school day, the school year, or teaching schedules. For example, strategies for creating time include switching to a team teaching approach, a year-round school schedule, or a revised weekly schedule that allows for early student-release days.

Common time. Many schools encourage common teacher-preparation and planning time, rather than individual prep time. This enables teachers to meet as grade-level or subject-area teams. When coupled with a lunch break, for example, common meeting time can result in as much as 90 minutes of uninterrupted time.

Better-used time. Many schools require teachers to meet for regular staff, department, and/or grade-level meetings. By choosing to use electronic formats, schools can communicate about administrative issues more efficiently, saving face-to-face meeting time for teachers to engage in data inquiry. In addition, by reassessing existing professional development plans, leaders may find ways to allocate more time to data analysis and collaborative problem-solving, which can lead to great professional gains overall.

Purchased time. Some schools and districts are able to reallocate existing funds and occasionally provide stipends for teachers to engage in improvement planning activities outside the school day.

Where there is a will…

Educational leaders have begun to recognize the power of collaborative inquiry around data to improve learning. They understand that changing the school schedule to make time for teacher collaboration is a requirement for collaborative inquiry, and they work hard to find creative solutions to the time crunch. The growing number of schools that now schedule time for teacher collaboration during the school day proves that where there is a will, there is a way!

Written by:
Diana Nunnaley, Using Data Director
Mary Anne Mather, Using Data Facilitator

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*Excerpted from Using Data/Getting Results by Nancy Love, TERC, Cambridge, MA.