Guest post by Scott Long
It is the sixth and final period, and I am in the midst of my third pep assembly of the day. Two-hundred seventh graders are shouting and raising their hands, hoping I will call their name for a 7-on-7 football-bowling competition. Beyond the high-octane atmosphere of the gym, there are eight seventh-grade teachers engaging in content-area-specific data protocol to help drive future instructional decisions. Although not nearly as fast-paced as football-bowling, these PLC meetings have a similar level of enthusiasm. As I facilitate the final assembly of the day, I take great comfort in knowing that we are supporting our teachers with the gift of time.
Orchard Lake Middle School is one of two middle schools in the West Bloomfield School District in Michigan. Our district emphasizes the importance of meaningful teacher collaboration, but like many other school districts, time and money are limited. Due to staffing and scheduling constraints, most of our teaching staff is double prepped. None of our grade-level PLCs have a common planning period built into the school day. Budget constraints prevent us from using a paid substitute to free up teachers for collaboration. So, the simple but difficult question we faced was how to build in regular collaboration time for our teachers without increasing any costs?
To solve this challenge, our administrative team had to get creative. The first issue we had to address was finding a time during the school day for teachers to meet. I started by looking for an hour during the day that had the highest volume of core content-area classes for a given grade level. For example, eight of the 10 teachers with eighth-grade classes taught an eighth-grade class during third hour. If our school counselors cover the two eighth-grade teachers who didn’t have a third-hour class, all of our eighth-grade teachers would have the same common planning time. We used the same process for evaluating our sixth- and seventh-grade teacher schedules and selected three periods where each group of teachers could meet that required the least amount of staff substitution.
Now that we found time for teachers to meet, the next problem we had to tackle was what to do with an entire grade of students while their teachers collaborated. After considering a variety of ideas, we decided to bring together all of the students from each grade for a pep assembly that would recognize our students’ efforts and build positive school culture. As the assistant principal, I plan and facilitate the assemblies to celebrate student success and recognize students who model our schoolwide behavior expectations. Each high-energy assembly builds school spirit with performances from our cheer team, presentations of our clubs and athletic teams, and exciting games like football-bowling.
This creative approach has benefited the entire school. With the pep assembly occurring twice a quarter, our teachers now gain eight hours each year to work together on lesson planning, common assessments, and instructional best practices. In addition, our students have some fun while we recognize their success in the classroom. And as an administrator, I receive satisfaction in knowing that I am giving collaboration time to the teachers and cultivating a strong positive culture for the students. It’s truly a win-win for all.
Can you think of creative ways to find more collaboration time for your teachers?
The 2017 Michigan Assistant Principal of the Year, Scott Long was assistant principal of Orchard Lake Middle School in West Bloomfield, MI, for the past four years. He will begin his first principalship in the fall of 2017 at Doherty Elementary, a K–2 building, in West Bloomfield.