What is Common Planning Time or Collaboration?
Common planning time or collaboration provides the opportunity for groups of teachers within a school to meet at defined times during the regular school day to discuss various aspects of the instructional program. Possible agenda items include:
- Assess aspects of the curriculum for a specific subject at a specific grade level
- Explore issues of vertical articulation in a specific content area
- Locate opportunities for interdisciplinary connections – content, skills, or career competencies
- Develop strategies for an advisory or intervention program
- Share best practices and applications of research on the teaching/learning process
- Originate ways to implement a school-based social-emotional learning program
- Learn more about the physical, intellectual, social-emotional, and moral developmental needs of students
- Establish least restrictive environment for students with an IEP, 504, or ELL designation
- Provide emotional support for teachers and other staff members
Creating Time for Collaboration
The first step in creating collaboration or common planning time within the master schedule is to identify the specific cohorts of teachers who should assemble with the ultimate purpose of enhancing aspects of the instructional program. These defined groups should be designated as the initial step in building the master schedule.
At the elementary level, all students of a grade could be assigned to art, music, physical education, library, and/or robotics at the same time. As a result, grade level planning sessions could occur.
At the middle school level, all teachers of an interdisciplinary team could meet when students are assigned to art, music, physical education, technology, family and consumer science, band, or chorus during the same period(s) of the day. These elective/exploratory teachers may have common planning time when all students are scheduled with the core/interdisciplinary team teachers.
At the high school level, schools have established freshman academies and career pathways that function similarly to middle school interdisciplinary teams. These teachers may have a common planning time when their students are in elective or other required courses. Careful preplanning could enable specific special education and general education teachers to coordinate the co-teaching or inclusion program.
High schools have also established common planning time when English and social studies teachers offer an integrated curriculum. Students are individually assigned during other periods of the day providing these teachers with an opportunity for collaboration.
Efforts to schedule full department meetings impact the likelihood of students receiving their first choices of course requests. Instead, small cohorts can be based upon specific assignments. For example, teachers of biology may have a common planning period. Additionally, teachers who are assigned Algebra and Geometry classes benefit from the opportunity to collaborate.
Common planning time does not occur “by accident.” Rather, to the extent possible, the creation of common planning time is an intentional first priority in building master schedules at each level. Once established, professional development is essential to achieve the most effective utilization of that time.
Elementary School Opportunities
- At a defined time during the day, teachers may regroup students on a fluid basis for remediation, enrichment, or acceleration in reading/language arts and/or mathematics. Assignments of students and teacher are accomplished in the common planning time.
- In grades 4-6, two-teacher teams can be formed. These two teachers are responsible for the same students at the same time each day. Teacher #1 specializes in reading/language art plus social studies while teacher #2 is responsible for mathematics and science. Teachers integrate concepts and skill development during common planning time.
- When there are three sections in grades 4 or 5, all teachers may teach reading/language arts. Following the reading/language arts block, teachers specialize in mathematics, social studies or science. Another possibility in the 3-teacher team is for one teacher to teach reading/language arts to all three classes, one teacher could be assigned to math for the three classes while the third teacher is responsible for social studies/science for the three classes. Key to the success of departmentalization at the elementary level is the effective utilization of common planning time.
- Schedules could set the stage for common planning time for interventionists and specials teachers. With a defined time for planning, strategies could be shared to provide support for students, identify curriculum connections or interdisciplinary activities and create flexible uses of time.
Middle School Opportunities
Collaboration was a key component in the early days of the middle school concept. Doctors William Alexander, Donald Eichhorn, and John Lounsbury guided the creation of a sense of community that would address the unique needs of early adolescent students. In all scenarios, teachers of special education and English language learners should be an integral part of teaching teams.
- At a defined time during the day, teachers may regroup students on a fluid basis for remediation, enrichment, or acceleration in reading/language arts and/or mathematics. Assignments of students and teachers are developed in the common planning time.
- In grades 5 and 6, two-teacher teams can be formed. These two teachers are responsible for the same students at the same time each day. Teacher #1 specializes in reading/language arts plus social studies while teacher #2 is responsible for mathematics and science. Teachers integrate concepts and skill development during common planning time.
- When there are three sections in grades 5 or 6, all teachers may teach reading/language arts. Following the reading/language arts block, teachers specialize in mathematics, social studies or science. Another possibility in the 3-teacher team is for one teacher to teach reading/language arts to all three classes, one teacher could be assigned to math for the three classes while the third teacher is responsible for social studies/science for the three classes. Key to the success of departmentalization is the effective utilization of common planning time.
- Four or 5-teacher teams include subject matter specialists for reading/language arts, social studies, mathematics, science, and possibly world language. The common planning period provides the time to integrate content and skills as well as respond to student needs. These teachers provide an advisory and an intervention program.
- Six-teacher teams provide two periods of reading/language arts and two periods of mathematics daily. Single periods are scheduled for social studies and science each day. This option provides greater opportunity to utilize common planning periods for integration of skills and concepts.
- When two or more core teams of a grade level are scheduled at the same time and sufficient seats exist for these students to attend exploratory/elective classes, teachers could collaborate as interdisciplinary units or by content area.
- Schedules can accommodate common planning time for elective/exploratory teachers. Art, music, physical education, technology, family and consumer science, and world language teachers can plan special events, integrate curriculum, identify opportunities for extended time periods and utilize project-based learning activities. Elective/exploratory teachers can arrange double periods and regroup students independent of core assignments.
- Elective/exploratory teachers may have common planning time when all students are in class with core/interdisciplinary team teachers.
- In some cases, common planning time can be arranged for members of the interventionist teams. These teachers can utilize this time to identify needs, monitor performance/growth of students, and share successful strategies.
High School Opportunities
- Research suggests that successful transition to high school greatly increases the likelihood of students graduating in four years. Freshman academy models, focusing on adjustment, typically include English, social studies, mathematics, special education and/or ELL teachers. Including an advisory/intervention period, the academy covers five of seven, five of eight, or six of eight periods excluding lunch.
- Recent emphasis on college and career readiness has created greater interest in career pathways that focus on medical, leadership, teaching, technology, or business themes. In some cases, students select specific courses from pathway offerings throughout the four-year period. In some schools teams, houses, or academies form interdisciplinary cohorts which include teachers representing specific pathways. Common planning time enables teachers to integrate curriculum, competencies and skills needed for college and career success.
- When multiple sections of a course such as Algebra II exist in the schedule, two sections can be scheduled at the same time each day. Two mathematics teachers and a special education co-teacher can be assigned the same 45-50 students in the same period of the day. These teachers have opportunities to establish a calendar for the year and systematically group and regroup students for each unit based on IEPs, pre-unit assessments, learning styles, interest inventories, and standardized test data. Following a unit exam, students can be regrouped again for remediation or enrichment; this process is repeated with each unit.
- High school teachers have unique opportunities for curriculum integration and flexible uses of time when the same 45-50 students are assigned to the same English 11 and U. S. history sections or the same geometry and physics sections for two consecutive periods. Through effective use of common planning time, lessons integrate content as well as identify practical applications of the two courses. As a result of collaboration, teachers have the opportunity to utilize extended time periods, regroup students, and plan for large as well as small group instruction.
- High schools can arrange for a common planning period for special education co-teachers to meet with general education teachers on a regular basis during the course of the school day. This enhances the impact of both teachers in addressing the unique needs of all students.
Common planning time or collaboration is a key factor in enhancing the teaching/learning process. Master schedules provide opportunities to reach this goal at the elementary, middle and high school levels. Students benefit when cohorts of teachers focus on developmental needs; integrate content skills and competencies; share successful teaching strategies and manage time effectively. Additionally, teachers benefit from the support of their colleagues. Opportunities for common planning time or collaboration must be a first priority in constructing schedules.