Collaboration—the Key to Expanded Learning Time

Today's post is written by Abby Cobb, a summer intern at NCTL. Abby is a junior at Yale College. She is majoring in Cognitive Science and is a part of the Education Scholars program, which mirrors her interest in combining educational research and policy. 

"You are never strong enough that you don't need help." 

This quote, by famous labor leader Cesar Chavez, seems a fitting start to a post about this year’s Massachusetts Education Partnership Conference, which revolved around the theme “Leading K-12 Innovation through Labor-Management Collaboration.” With an emphasis on the future of labor-management collaboration, the conference reflected the spirit of Chavez’s words and served as a forum to discuss the future of education with regards to labor negotiations.

The breakout session I attended focused on collaboration as the key to expanding teacher and student time to maximize the impact of ELT schools across Massachusetts. Our co-founder and president, Jennifer Davis, moderated a panel in front of an audience of educators, district and union leaders, school committee members and parents from across the state of MA. Panelists included: Ted Chambers, teacher and union leader from Edwards Middle School (Boston); Mary Hurley, teacher and union leader at Longsjo Middle School (Fitchburg); Longsjo’s principal, Craig Chalifoux; and Paul Toner, President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

From the beginning it was apparent that although labor negotiations around expanded time can be complicated and challenging, the panelists and audience members had firsthand experience with the benefits of ELT in their schools and communities and are committed to using ELT as a tool to help improve schools across the state. The focus of the discussion revolved around the importance of building buy-in at all levels as the key to the ongoing development of ELT. This means that embedding time for teachers is vital, because it strengthens teachers’ commitment to the profession and allows them adequate time to develop curriculum, collaborate with peers, and meet the needs of all students. It is also important to build teacher buy-in by creating ongoing opportunities for teacher voice and feedback after ELT is launched.

Teacher buy-in is balanced with union buy-in and cooperation, which was also discussed extensively. The panel brought up the various ways in which labor and management have worked together to provide fair compensation for teachers in Massachusetts ELT schools and districts. Flexibility and a shared recognition that different models will look at labor-management negotiations in different ways were two key points panelists emphasized. Based on the audience questions, it appears that this struggle to balance many unique (and sometimes competing) interests among different entities is a shared experience of both the panelists and audience members.

My overall takeaway from the session is that achieving a balance between meeting the needs of students and teachers is critical. I believe the goal of expanding learning time in the state of Massachusetts and throughout the country is going to need help from all stakeholders: teachers, unions, students, parents, and politicians. Chavez realized the necessity of cooperation in the sphere of labor-management, and it is with this same collaborative spirit that we’ll be able to make a lasting change in education—a change which no single entity is strong enough to accomplish by itself.

If you’d like more information about how to leverage teacher time in ELT schools, our recently-released report, Time for Teachers, is a great resource.