using time effectively

It’s About Time

Now that another academic year is drawing to a close, it’s a worthwhile reflection to think about how we have used our time to focus on learning.

It’s about time.

A school year for an international school runs for an average of 180 days. That’s only 420 minutes of learning opportunities structured in a day, and a total of 75,600 minutes of structured opportunities to learn in a school year.

When a school is not deliberate about designing how to use time effectively to maximize learning, the ultimate losers are students.

How do schools waste time, and what might be some ways to regain time in the next school year?

How Schools Waste Time

Ineffective use of allocated meeting time

If faculty groups meet once a week, this translates to around 36 meetings in a year. This is about 36-45 hours to make sure that there is a shared and common understanding of complex knowledge, such as how to write statements of understanding; how to plan units; standardizing criteria; how to effectively teach for transfer; developing progressions of learning; flagging concerns for intervention and developing interventions systematically. The list is endless of complex work that faculties have to revisit, resolve, and enact.

Ineffective meetings can put a halt to this complex work. Characterized by nostalgic monologues, tirades of problems without offering alternative solutions, and other soliloquy that are just plain resistance to change.

Procrastination of one becomes procrastination for the rest

Timelines are artifacts of interdependence. The actions in a timeline represent everyone’s success, and when one person or department drags the work back, it affects many others and their ability to successfully achieve something. So, one person procrastinating and/or resisting work effectively halts the group’s success.

Disregarding systems

Systems and structures in place ensure consistency and accountability. After all, school is predicated on a promise that the children we have in our care will learn and achieve [insert standards here] in any given school year.

Ignoring a system and its structures puts this promise at risk. Say a parent doesn’t like one of his child’s teachers, and he goes to another teacher who teaches the same subject without informing the current teacher of his child of his intentions. He asks to put his child in the second teacher’s class. This breach of communication lines for intervention creates a situation of conflict. Now someone has to mediate between the two teachers. Now someone has to spend time repairing the relational damage that has been done. All because a systemic procedure was disregarded (not to mention professional courtesy).


Remember that famous anonymous analogy of organizations as a boat with everyone rowing? Well, sometimes we get people who are in the boat with everyone else and they hold drills in their hands. And they drill holes in the boat whilst everyone else rows.

Drilling can happen in many ways. One of the most unproductive behaviors that can drill holes in a boat is what the literature sometimes terms ‘parking lot meetings.’

Parking lot [or hallways or coffee break] meetings are essentially gripe sessions that have no other purpose than to not solve a problem. These private conversations usually do not involve the decision makers of the organization, so nothing gets done as a result except creating feelings of bad faith in the work.


So much research has been done on effective professional development and networking thinking. Standards for school implementation of programs like the IB, for instance, specifically ask schools to enact collaboration. The benefits of collaboration reflect the parallel pathways of globalization and the increasing need to nurture interdisciplinary problem-solving. After all, we know that problems aren’t subject-specific. World problems move back and forth across disciplinary lines. These interdisciplinary global issues necessarily ask of education to enact contextual resolutions in the simulations of the real world which teachers design into assessment tasks.

So when we insist on closing the door, ask people to remain within imaginary boundaries between subjects or departments, we invite obsolescence.

So how do we avoid these pitfalls given the fact that we understand the limits of time for co-constructing the school experience for our students?

Ways of Regaining Time

Use protocols, expect products

People have studied dynamical systems, which school is one. Adaptive SchoolsSM and its parent organization Thinking Collaborative have developed ways to use protocols to design the contact architecture for productive collaboration.

Clear expectations of what we want to achieve during a collaborative meeting helps to focus our work and supports the use of limited time.

Develop and clearly communicate timelines

Clear timelines for implementation is a necessity. Action plans, calendars and similar tools are readily available for faculty groups to use as they enact goals.

Breaking down large goals into manageable chunks of work help us to prioritize and celebrate incremental wins toward the big goal. Strategies like the target board and Gantt time management tools are useful tools in developing clear timelines.

Clearly communicate systems and how they work

Conscious thought as an interdependent individual is vital. Recognizing that as independent agents, our own capacities and work impact the effectiveness and success of others is a trait of people who are interdependent.

Communicating the ways that individuals’ work relates to the work of the group helps in increasing this mental resource of consciousness and supports thinking toward becoming more aware of how our own inaction impacts the direction and journey of others.

We may also be mindful of the implementation dip and support each other as we learn to rise above the temporary dip.

Invite drillers to stop drilling and join the ones who are rowing

Often, drillers are not aware that they are drilling. They might think they are being helpful. Pointing out the differences between productive talk (putting ideas on the table, presuming positive intentions) and unproductive talk (rumor and complaint) might help drillers to increase awareness on how the ways that they communicate affect the ways the work progresses in positive or negative ways.

Build in collaborative time and communicate expectations for implementation, work on collaboration and operationalize a way of being

Breaking down silos is long, complex work. Collaboration is not a natural skill but is one that needs to be learned and developed. Adaptive SchoolsSM has developed a set of norms of collaboration. Deliberately taking the time to learn, rehearse and assess these norms is one way of encouraging collaboration.

Structures need to be in place for collaboration to occur. Placing collaboration in the work schedule emphasizes its importance to the organization. Carefully planning meetings so they are not memo-meetings but learning engagements, highlights the importance of working together to achieve common goals.

Time in schools and for schools is more than creating a calendar for 180 days.

Working with our use of time is about the reason why we gather each school year: to facilitate learning and achievement.

And how might we then use this scarce resource to maximize our purpose?



Photo Credit:

Featured photo Helping Hand By Emile Renouf (1845-1894) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Beach cottage life by (c) Rene Marie Photography.