Last month we invited our signatories to contribute to the TSC blog answering one simple question: “Why should schools expand learning time?” We will be rolling out the submissions in the coming weeks and to get us started is a submission from Jennifer Burn, Policy Analyst for the New Teacher Center on the importance of expanding learning time for the benefit of teachers. 

Expanded learning time is a relevant issue for students and teachers alike. Research tells us that teachers are the most critical school-based determinant of student achievement and it also tells us that dedicated time for teacher collaboration is critical for learning outcomes.

Beginning teachers, in particular, need opportunities to accelerate their effectiveness and strengthen their teaching practice. Districts and schools should expand the time made available to new teachers and their mentors as part of a comprehensive induction program. Mentors should be fully released from their classroom duties to focus on mentoring new teachers. Dedicated time must be built in for mentors and mentees to connect throughout the week. Additionally, both mentors and new teachers need time to participate in learning communities.

New Teacher Center (NTC) addresses issues of time in our program and policy work, including in our Review of State Policies on Teacher Induction. Three of our ten key policy criteria address issues related to time, including mentor training, mentor release time and mentor-new teacher contact time.

NTC believes that both foundational mentor training and on-going mentor professional development are important. NTC’s comprehensive induction model provides 12 days of mentor professional development in years 1 and 2, and 9 full days in year 3, in addition to half-day mentor learning forums throughout the year.

NTC also believes that teacher mentors need to be fully released from all classroom-teaching duties to allow mentors to focus their time on supporting beginning educators. One of NTC’s long-standing recommendations has been to have between 1.25 and 2.5 hours per week of time for mentor-mentee interactions. Without a sufficient amount of regular contact time, the mentor and mentee may not have an opportunity for meaningful conversations about instruction and classroom observations. By creating specific time requirements, mentor and mentee interactions are prioritized and value is placed on protecting that important meeting time.

In addition, one of the eight key constructs that are at the heart of NTC’s Teaching and Learning Conditions Survey is ‘Time’. The anonymous survey, which has been administered in numerous states and districts throughout the country, asks educators a series of questions to identify their perceptions of how the availability or lack of availability of time affects teaching and learning conditions in their schools and districts. The availability of sufficient time for teachers to collaborate in a professional learning community and for teacher professional development can help support great teaching and impact student achievement. In contrast, a lack of time can constrain great teaching. Results from these surveys have been used to inform policy and practice. For example, in North Carolina, the data has been used by education leaders and policy makers to make informed decisions critical to the success of teacher and students. The Intersection of Policy and Practice talks about the policies implemented in North Carolina as a result of the survey, including a law that requires School Improvement Teams to include in their improvement plan, a way to ensure that every teacher will have a duty free lunch and a planning period with a goal of providing every teacher 5 hours of planning per week.

As policymakers and practitioners take steps to restructure the school day and year and expand learning time for students, they should be reminded not to just focus on longer school days and increased time in the classroom for instruction. A multi-faceted approach to time is required by also providing teachers and mentors with the time they need for ongoing professional development that will accelerate their effectiveness and improve student learning.

Jennifer Burn is a Policy Analyst for the New Teacher Center in Santa Cruz, California, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to improving student learning by accelerating the effectiveness of teachers and school leaders. Jennifer works alongside the Policy Team on a range of projects and initiatives designed to strengthen new educator induction and mentoring policies at the state and national levels.