Famously, Google have a system within their company called 20% time which gives their employees space to develop their own ideas and projects, many of which - e.g. Gmail - actually became full-blown services. There have been rumours that this is disappearing, but regardless, it’s a principle that’s been picked up in education and now many teachers give their students free time during the week to allow them to develop their own creative projects. There are even communities on social networks that teachers can join to share their experiences and ideas for how to implement it in the classroom.
But what about us teachers? Wouldn’t we benefit from this too? So often we have great ideas about ways we could improve the school such as creating supplementary materials, running workshops, taking extra courses for professional development….hell, just tidying up our desk and getting our papers in order is enough for some of us, but there never seems to be enough time with all the teaching and preparation we have to do.
Well, at our centre we’ve actually been given the chance to do this. From September they reduced our teaching hours down from 21 to 18 a week. So, ok, technically it’s not 20% time, it’s actually 14% (or 14.2857142857 if you’re a real stickler for mathematical honesty), but it’s better than nothing. This has been called Scholarship Time and we have freedom to focus on ways to develop both ourselves and the centre in whatever way we see fit. By the way, of those 3 hours we have, 1.5 of them are cover, so on some weeks we may not get the full time allotted to us.
For some people it was immediately obvious what they could use the time for: many of the teachers are working on Diplomas, Masters or Doctorates so this gave them a bit more time to work on them. For the rest of us though we needed to be a bit more self-directed to use the time effectively. One thing that helped was that Jo Sutcliffe, our Teacher Development Coordinator, set up a series of informal groups called scholarship circles so that teachers with an interest in a particular area of teaching could meet regularly, share ideas and come up with practical goals and projects for the members to take part in. Topics included: using technology in the classroom, teacher development, try something new, teacher training, assessment, summer school planning, getting published, doing a Masters and doing a Phd.
Some of these took off immediately. Try something new proved very popular as it had a broad, general appeal while teacher development proved really useful for teachers planning to present at conferences as it gave them a receptive audience to practice on. Others such as teacher training and using technology in the classroom took a little longer to get off the ground. A few of them - such as getting published and doing a Phd - never got going at all possibly because there were so specific and only had a few people interested in them.
|Brainstorming during a scholarship circle meeting|
But they are definitely having an effect. For example, the teacher development circle have been planning workshops and will be running a series of them in March based around a theme. They are also in the initial stages of a longer-term plan to hold a conference at our centre the following year. I run the technology circle and the members have been experimenting with lots of different ideas in class using things such as video cameras, laptops and clickers. And the teacher training circle is giving the CELTA trainers a chance to standardise procedures in a way that they have never done before. And on a less tangible note, I feel that teachers now seem to have more time and are less stressed than they were before. Of course I could be wrong about this….
|Excerpts from our scholarship circle meeting minutes|
I appreciate that reducing teachers’ hours is not something that can easily be done, financially it’s just not going to be possible for many schools and centres. But it does help avoid teacher burnout, give teachers a feeling of professional development and will probably help keep better teachers at the school. And those are not bad things to work towards...