Protecting the Essential Elements of Teaching

A previous article focused on research, which demonstrates that fewer student hours may result in higher educational value. Traditionally, the amount of contact hours teachers have with their students was viewed as the most critical and essential part of evaluating their work; but those school systems making the greatest contributions in the world have discovered something altogether different. Effective schools are led by trusted leaders who know that the most critical elements of a teacher’s core responsibilities are the following:

  • Time for preparation

  • Time for continual and individualized professional development

  • Time for implementing research-based best practices and innovation

  • Time for collaborative reflection on student data (i.e. PLCs)

Leaders, who genuinely contribute to the fulfillment of their school’s mission, restructure the way they organize and manage the teacher’s workday to support the above elements.

Cathy J. Cook, Mathematics Education and Professional Development (PD) Specialist for the Midwest Consortium for Mathematics and Science Education and Carole Fine, Director of PD for the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, researched this topic for many years. Recommendations, which they made years ago in work for the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching (now a part of the American Institutes for Research), are more valid than ever. Among the goals they encouraged school communities to attain were the following:*

  • Move away from past models of PD, taking place only on in-service days, weekends, or during the summer – to new models that embed PD into the daily lives of teachers.

  • Restructure teachers’ work to create the mental space necessary for ongoing PD.**

  • Develop strategies for informing and convincing the public and policymakers that PD is as much a part of teachers’ work as instruction.

Trusted school leaders understand and champion the reality that greater levels of PD for teachers and less seat-time for students, may in fact, result in higher quality education. For those school leaders who may not have the ability to make modifications to compulsory student hours, they can work to provide work environments where teachers are supported with schedules, funding, and opportunities within their current framework, to pursue continually what it means to contribute to a high quality of education.

© Toby A. Travis, All Rights Reserved

*American Institutes for Research, accessed 23 June 2016,; North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, accessed 3 November 2015,

**“Mental space” is referring to the opportunity for teachers to be away from their daily classroom routines in order to reflect intentionally on their work.

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