There is no school for students on January 28 and 29. These are two days when we give our teachers time to do two important things: one is to assess the progress of their students and prepare report cards; the other is to engage in their own learning through professional development.
A day in the life of a teacher is filled with an amazing set of demands and expectations. Just ask any teacher. On the surface, everyone knows that they provide instruction to students. But behind the scenes, they are busy planning lessons, collaborating with other teachers to analyze their instruction and examine their outcomes, and attending meetings.
They also engage in professional development. Teachers are learners too, and the best ones make a commitment to continually refining their instruction, deepening their knowledge of teaching and learning, and ultimately expanding their repertoire of strategies so they can better meet the needs of their students. In short, they are lifelong learners.
The best professional development is job-embedded -- training that pertains directly to what a teacher does every day. Unfortunately, there are never enough hours in a day, and amidst the myriad demands within a traditional school calendar and a typical school schedule, there just isn't adequate time to devote to professional development. So we try to build professional development into every nook and cranny. This is a common problem across the country, but schools are getting increasingly creative in regard to how they do this.
We provide teachers four days prior to the start of the school year during which two are dedicated to professional development, and two are dedicated to preparing their classrooms. Four times during the school year, we dedicate a full day to professional development. As a result, sometimes students are not in school. We also provide teachers with grading days four times each year. I've been asked to tell a little about how we determine which of those days are grading, which are for professional development, and which are holidays for students.
When the annual school calendar is set, we use the following delimits in our selection of days:
- School must not begin before Labor Day. (This is a state law, of course.)
- We like school to end no later than the second week in June. This enables students to start summer jobs and teachers to attend university training that is offered in the summer.
- We do not schedule school the third Thursday and Friday in October to enable our teachers to attend the statewide Minnesota Educator Academy hosted by Education Minnesota.
- We do not hold school on Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, President's Day, Memorial Day due to bargaining agreements with our employees.
- We provide students with a winter break in late December into early January.
- We schedule a full week for spring break sometime in March or April. We do not want a break a week or two before the end of a quarter, which we feel would interrupt the learning cycle.
- We schedule the above dates so as to not conflict with state testing dates.
- We do not hold school on days that we refer to as "trade days," which are provided for teachers in exchange for working in the evening for parent teacher conferences.
- We schedule grading days at the end of each quarter. We do as much as we possibly can to keep the length of each quarter relatively the same so there is a consistent number of days of instruction for each class.
- We try to limit the number of partial weeks. (This, unfortunately, is unavoidable.)
- After all of these things, we try to see where a professional day best fits.
Now, that's probably way more than you want to know about school calendars. But as you can see, we have a lengthy list of things to consider. When all is said and done, it is no wonder the calendar looks relatively the same from one year to the next. There really isn't much wiggle room.
That said, one thing we did this year and plan to do again next year is to schedule a grading day and a professional development day back-to-back. So instead of a four-day school week, we now have two more three-day weeks for students. While we know that a shortened week has its cons, we also want to maximize our capacity to provide high-quality professional development for our teachers. Let me explain.
Given our capacity, it is less effective to provide professional development for over 400 teachers at a time. When we can split this size of group into elementary one day and secondary the next, it enables us to use our internal talent within our staff in the space we have for training. This also saves time and money. Best of all, we think we provide a better experience for teachers. How does this work? We split elementary and secondary teachers into two groups when a grading and a professional development day are scheduled back-to-back. One day, half of our teachers work on grades and half participate in professional development. The reverse occurs on the second day.
I hope this summary is helpful. Like you, we want the best learning experience for our students, which means ensuring we are supporting our teachers in being the best they can possibly be. What may seem like a random set of dates in a calendar has really been given quite a lot of thought, all within some very tight parameters.
Thank you for your continued support for District 197. We are so glad to be your partner!
Follow me on Twitter