"There is never enough time in the day." My mother used to groan this at bedtime when we would remember a promise for 20 cupcakes in class the next morning, describe a needed costume for the Thanksgiving play, or ask for a signature on a field trip permission form, which also requested parent drivers. Other than finals week in college, I never quite understood what she meant about the lack of time.
And then I became a teacher.
All of a sudden, time became a precious commodity constantly slipping by in a whitewater stream of pens and papers and grid-like gradebooks. I found myself grading-planning-grading-planning in a frantic cycle, trying to keep up and teach and assign and grade and plan and answer e-mails and grade and plan ... ahhh!
When did I have time to reflect and improve? Improve?! Holy moly, I was trying not to drown. Nine years later, I can finally laugh at that hopeless, tear-ridden first year. And I have improved, although the cycle hasn't slowed. Like a raft guide who, even if the river is still fast and furious, becomes accustomed to its challenges, I have learned to look at my job as an adventure rather than a survival situation. And in the past six years, I have finally learned to reflect, mostly with the help of colleagues and supportive administrators.
On Friday, May 2, a group of 20 teachers were sitting at a colleague's home at 7 p.m. completing an "NSRF" meeting. We wondered if it would surprise some of our community members to know that so many teachers meet formally outside of school to reflect and study our work as teachers. NSRF stands for National School Reform Faculty and was started years ago by the Annenberg Institute housed at Brown University with a federal grant. The teachers working with the Annenberg Institute compiled a collection of protocols - a set of procedures to use when studying student and teacher work. These protocols were designed for use in teacher groups called "Critical Friends Groups," or CFGs.
Juneau teachers from several different schools have been meeting in CFGs and using these protocols to enhance teaching for the last seven years. We meet at least once a month, on our own time, usually in the evening (one brave group meets at 6:15 a.m.) to improve in student outcome and teaching strategy.
Juneau's CFG (also called NSRF) groups vary in their scope and purpose.
One group is focusing on brain research and how children learn, another focuses on mathematics and student work, another on language and student work. Still others encompass a wider scope by focusing on something different at each meeting. But the overall objective is the same: To improve student work by looking at ourselves as teachers.
It is a worthwhile and important step in any adult's career to reflect on improvement. I am fortunate the administrators at my school value teacher training, reflection and studying student work. Where would we be if these groups were not promoted, organized, and supported? It is sometimes assumed that teacher reflection and collaboration time is a waste. Nothing could be farther from the truth. We crave the time to learn and grow, and it benefits everyone, both teachers and children.
Every once in a while, a raft guide must slip into an eddy to take a breather, or to look ahead and gauge what the next step will be, how she can best maneuver through the rushing water. If the guide never stopped, she might choose the wrong path entirely and end up in a perilous situation. My NSRF group has been invaluable to me personally and has allowed me to step out of the water and onto the shore to regroup and refuel. More importantly, the group has helped me be sure that the route I choose is the very best one. For indeed, my raft carries the future.
Amy Lloyd is completing her seventh year in the Juneau School District. She teaches Language Arts in the Alder House at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School.