Finding Time for Collaborative Planning

In Igniting the Learning Engine: How school systems accelerate teacher effectiveness and student growth through Connected Professional Learning (which we blogged about here:, authors profiled four school systems that, with an intensive focus on improving the quality of instruction through professional learning, have seen above-average results with a relatively high-need student population.

Making the shift from traditional professional development to Connected Professional Learning implies significant change both at the system level and in schools. But even in the best of circumstances, one stubborn challenge can confound even the most seasoned principal: “How do we find enough time for meaningful collaborative planning?”

In more than 10 years of experience working with leaders in over 40 school systems across the country, researchers at ERS have come to deeply understand the time challenge in schools. Building a strategic master schedule requires principals to balance diverse student needs and a range of teacher skills in the context of a student day that can include as little as five hours of focused learning time. The task is often complicated further by collective bargaining agreements with highly prescriptive stipulations, staff and coverage shortages, transportation schedule requirements, and limited resources.

In a new brief, researchers provide context on how American teachers currently spend their time and offer practical strategies for how principals can create more collaborative planning time. ERS hopes these models inspire school and district leaders to create this crucial condition for Connected Professional Learning—one that helps improve the quality of instruction and, ultimately, outcomes for students. They offer the following six models:

  1. Back-to-Back: Stack two blocks of planning time together.
  2. Banking Time: Reduce planning time on a few days to increase time on another day.
  3. Beginning and End of Day: Reorganize time that teachers have at the beginning and end of the day into more team planning time.
  4. Recess and Lunch: Schedule noninstructional blocks like recess and lunch next to planning time, and cover those activities with other adults.
  5. Larger Specials: Create larger specials classes so that fewer specials classes can cover more core teachers’ time.
  6. Enrichment Periods: Create enrichment or intervention periods, covered by other adults, to allow teachers to plan.

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