reflective practice · writing workshop

Time for a Shift

Over the past two years, I’ve had an opportunity to think about time differently, and as a result, I’m noticing patterns in the way that educators experience and talk about time. 

I’m currently in my fourth semester of an MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults, and a requirement of the program is a commitment to spend at least 25 hours a week reading and writing. No excuses, no exceptions. The high volume and quality of work expected in this program means that I need to find those 25 hours no matter what. 

This has not been easy. 

It doesn’t matter if it’s parent-teacher conference week, report card week, or if there are multiple late nights for school events. 

I don’t say this to minimize how time-consuming any of these things are. The workload for educators is intense all the time. The lulls or plateaus in between the high intensity times I remember from my earliest years teaching have all but disappeared—every week feels like a time of high urgency. 

What I’ve been thinking about recently is how my mindset has shifted as a result of making both a time and learning commitment that cannot be pushed aside. Those 25 hours are sacred to me, and so I make them happen on top of a demanding job as an instructional coach (and last year as an instructional coach/remote kindergarten teacher). As a result, I can see something I don’t think I saw before—an a-ha with tremendous implications for both student and adult learning. 

I’ve realized that if I had given myself permission to step off the gas on my MFA work every time I felt (and heard teacher talk around) high urgency at school, I would have washed out of this program. There is no way that I could have done the amount of reading and writing I have needed to do to make the growth I have made. (And I have made a crazy-amazing amount of growth.) 

I hear the talk, and I do my 25 hours anyway—day by day, week by week. I’ll be honest: in the beginning, I didn’t think I would be able to. Turns out, I can.

I can’t help but translate this thinking to schools and the classroom. I’m not judging in any way, but see if any of these rationalizations sound familiar for why we can’t do things—either in the classroom or in terms of professional learning for teachers: 

  • “Kids will be back next week, so we need to focus on getting classrooms ready!” 
  • “Kids forgot everything over the summer, so we have to do so much review!”
  • “We have to go slow to go fast.” 
  • “No one has energy for new learning right now. We need to get back in the groove first.” 
  • “This week is Back to School Night. . .” (And last week we were prepping for Back to School Night.) 
  • “Not on a Friday—kids are tired/squirrely/being pulled out early for the weekend.”
  • “We’re too close to [insert holiday here].” 
  • “Kids are still wound up from [insert holiday here].” 
  • It’s conference week/the week before conferences/the week after conferences. . .”
  • “Report cards!”
  • “Oh, that time change throws everyone off.” 
  • “The weeks between Thanksgiving and Winter Break are such a waste. . .”
  • “We’re just back from Winter Break, and we need to get resettled into our routines.” 
  • “It’s a full moon/windy day/snowy day. . .” 
  • “Ugh, February is. . . February.” 
  • “Conferences and report cards again!” 
  • “It’s March, so let’s save any new ideas or professional learning for next year.” 
  • “State testing is coming up/happening/just happened.” (Goodbye, March, April, and May!)
  • “Anything new we learn now we can’t apply until next year anyway.”
  • “Kids can sense summer coming, so there’s no point in teaching that now.” 

Throughout this year, I’ve found myself hyper-aware of this kind of talk. Not because I disagree, and not because I lack empathy for the stress educators are under. There is no question that teachers are expected to do way more than it is possible to do in the amount of time available.

However, because I’ve changed my own mindset (because I HAD to), I can recognize the danger of this kind of collective thinking about time that I could not see as clearly when I allowed myself to be swept up in it. I can see the impact that this kind of thinking can have on the learning of both kids and adults—especially over time—to live in a constant state of pushing important work for later. 

How much more might students learn if we shifted away from this kind of thinking? What might we learn that could impact our own practice?

We make space for what we value. As educators and members of professional communities, that is learning. Every time we cancel professional learning or plan something fluffy for our students because we think they “can’t handle” something more meaningful, we sell them and ourselves short. We communicate to them (and to each other) that learning is the thing that wears us down, as opposed to the thing that builds us up. 

Writing workshop is powerful because it is a consistent investment of time for writers to work with intention at their craft. It is sacred space. As teachers of workshop, we are intentional about teaching writers something every day. This is how growth happens—day by day over weeks and months and years. The effectiveness of workshop erodes over time when we skip Fridays or holidays or weeks preceding long breaks. 

I am not advocating for creating learning environments that are pressure cookers for learners of any age. I’m simply advocating for learning environments (for kids and adults) that keep going with consistency throughout the year. It is joyful for learners of all ages to gather with purpose, to work toward goals with intention, and to see evidence of their own growth. 

Learning is energy giving, for kids and for us. It is both the most important and the most urgent work we have the privilege of designing and facilitating. It is the reason we get up in the morning and do what we do.

My goal in writing this post and putting these ideas out there is simply to challenge us to consider how greater self-awareness of the consequences of current patterns of teacher-talk about time might empower us to make a positive change (for ourselves and for kids). What must we hold sacred every day to ensure that learners grow? What are some ways we might shift our own self-talk (and the teacher-to-teacher talk that happens in our buildings) to protect this sacred learning time? How might a shift of this kind change the way we experience the ebbs and flows of the school year?

16 thoughts on “Time for a Shift

  1. This post is perfectly timed! Coming back to school today after spring break, I looked at the school and calendar and thought, “this year is almost over!” Thank you for the challenge and reminder to make every moment of this last quarter just as full of learning and opportunity for my students as the rest of the year. This reminds me of Hattie’s research that says collective teacher efficacy has the biggest effect on student learning. The way we talk about time and learning within our schools definitely impacts our collective efficacy.

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  2. This post really resonated with me. As a classroom teacher, whenever I was feeling extra stressed I actually sought out professional development. It made me feel more in control and hopefully provided some new strategies that would make teaching joyful again.

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  3. This line is powerful and wields so much truth: “ We make space for what we value.” Yes! This post is so crucial, Amy (and extremely well-written). One of my mentors used to say, “When time is wasted, lives are wasted.” I never forgot that, nor will I forget your clear and gently persuasive post!

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  4. Yes! There is always something. Of course we need to stop to celebrate. But the work is too important to stop!

    As I feel challenged by this, I’m remembering the power of “yes and”…for instance…I love the saying ” go slow now to go fast later. So my defenses come up when it’s listed.

    But..

    Yes and…go slow now, practicing routines and structures not on meaningless work but on important work and content. Practice the routines and structures repeatedly while the students are doing meaningful and important work. They don’t just need to know the routines or behaviors…they need to see the fruit of this labor is the joy of learning and having done something worthwhile.

    This post will stay with me. Amazing!

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  5. Thanks for nudging me to reexamine my mindset. This line especially resonated with me: “We communicate to them (and to each other) that learning is the thing that wears us down, as opposed to the thing that builds us up. ” I’ll be thinking about this post a lot.

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  6. Those rationalizations, Amy! Wow! I’ve said some through the years & have heard most of them said. The value of consistency — no matter the day or the season — is crucial.
    This is such an important post for us to read today — and to keep coming back to!

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  7. I needed to read this. Your clarity around intension and consequences is powerful. Your teacher talk is spot-on. Your call to action at the end is just that. Know you got me thinking about what I hold sacred. Thank you for this nudge. It is needed and welcomed by me.

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