Daniel Cohan

Daniel Cohan is community superintendent for the Jefferson County public school district in Colorado. He is former principal of Pomona High School in Arvada, Colorado, where he and his staff implemented processes for RTI and PLCs.

Q&A: Scheduling Collaboration Time for Multiple Teams

The following question was sent in to AllThingsPLC.info:

If a high school teacher has two or three preps, how does he or she serve on more than one collaboration team? I presume teams usually meet at the same time.
—Larry Bernbaum, Central Valley High School, Washington

Here is Dan Cohan’s response:

Hello Larry. Congratulations to you and Central Valley High School for striving to engender more effective collaboration in your teams.

This is a great question. As a former high school math teacher, assistant principal, and principal, I understand how challenging serving on multiple collaborative teams can be, especially considering the workload involved with teaching multiple preps.

In my experience working with my own staff as well as other schools, your assumption that PLC teams meet at the same time is a key issue. If you have the luxury of implementing collaborative time more than one time per week, this opens up many opportunities for working on more than one team. For example, at my high school, we scheduled collaborative team time on Mondays and Fridays during a block of time from the end of the last period until the end of the workday, 45 minutes total. These days were scheduled carefully, with Mondays serving as team time for the teacher’s primary course (the class the teacher taught the most) and Fridays serving as a secondary team meeting.

If you do not have the luxury of more than one opportunity per week for collaborative team time, I would suggest the following possibilities:

  1. Arrange the collaborative team schedule by the month—primary teams meet on first and third weeks, secondary or tertiary meet the other weeks. In my experience, while it is important to meet regularly, quality of team meetings is paramount to quantity. If you follow the guidelines of well-functioning teams as outlined in the many professional learning communities resources, you will quickly see the importance of quality team meetings.
  2. Work with your principal and master scheduler on arranging common planning times with your course teammates. I understand the importance of individual planning time to accomplish the multitude of tasks required of teachers, but in my school, many teams were willing to give up one planning period per week to engage in collaborative work with their teammates.
  3. Get creative with study halls, access periods, seminars, assessment days, etc. We quickly realized that we could institute collaborative team time immediately by combining study halls and strategically planning access periods. We also took advantage of the consistency in testing days at the high school level and combined classes that were testing at the same time to allow teachers to collaborate.

In general, I would argue there is always a way to implement effective collaborative team time. We have elective teachers with five preps who are still able to engage in meaningful collaboration with their colleagues. One other suggestion I will leave you with—on your journey in seeking meaningful collaborative time, you will find that longer blocks of time built into a daily/weekly schedule allow for much more effective team time. At my school, it took us much trial and error to realize we needed at least 30 minutes of uninterrupted time for a team of teachers to model effective collaboration. Once we realized this, the solution was relatively easy—we shifted our class periods up to start immediately when kids entered school to allow for a block of time in the afternoon. What a difference this made! This provided 45 minutes every day for team time, interventions, additional student support, professional development, etc. An important note here is that we did not alter the bus schedule; this was completely an in-house change.


Kim Wallace

Is there any research you can point me to that says what the "ideal" frequency and length for collaboration time is? We are instituting one hour a week next year via early release/late start and I'd like to find some data that shows that is a good amount of time and frequency if anyone has it.

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Hello. Our school is starting to implement the PLC process in our elementary building and our school district. I am a K-5th grade special education teacher with 17 students. We have created a master schedule that allows grade level teams to meet once every 2 weeks to analyze and discuss data and plan for our intervention block. Each grade level has a separate day within the two-week cycle to meet so there is no overlap. We have also created an intervention block with 3 grade level teachers plus one specialist teacher (spec.ed, reading teachers, principal, counselor, and ELL teacher) to work with small groups and one paraprofessional to supervise the activities of the remainder of the students not in intensive groups. My question is: What are other special education teachers doing for the PLC meeting process? I could possibly attend all 5 grade level PLC meetings over the two weeks, but I'm concerned that I'll get overwhelmed. Our focus this first year is math intervention because we have no math support in our building. I have students in 5 different grades that receive math support from me through IEP goals and co-teaching. There are other specialists (reading teachers, ELL, and an autism teacher) who are in the same boat...where do we go? Do we create our own PLC even through we don't share any kids?? Or do we split up and attend grade-level PLC meetings where we have a large group of students--but then what about the rest of our students? How are other buildings/teachers making this work?

Thanks in advance for any input/suggestions out there!

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Dan Cohan

Hello all,

Thank you for the responses regarding your specific successes and challenges in finding time for collaboration.

I understand the feeling of being "shot down" when asking for changes or other options. Indeed, as principal, I was on the side of having to say no to some suggestions based on the realities of scheduling and time limitations. However, if you have a shared leadership team established at your school, this could be a great topic for discussion.

Before I was a principal, I was the master scheduler for my high school and I have much experience with the difficulty of creating common planning periods for teachers. When our school began to truly model a PLC, we had to settle with alternating this benefit around the school to different departments and teams over the years; it was impossible to do it for everyone.

Thank you again for your comments. jjlarocca - it's great to hear your successes with the Math Coach. What a powerful opportunity to work together to plan and implement best instructional practices in the classroom. Done right, this is one of the more effective strategies in improving instruction.

Take care,

Dan Cohan

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I really enjoyed reading this blog and can relate to it in my own school in. The middle school I teach in has around 1200 students and at times it seemed very difficult to collaborate with other teachers. This past year our principal organized the schedules in a way that would benefit the teachers and our professional learning community.
Here are some suggestions:
-Our district created waiver days for professional development where we would attend meetings and discuss content specific ideas. The days would be roughly from 8-2 and it provided us time to communicate with both content teams and grade level teams.
-Our principal put into effect common planning times for all 6th, 7th, and 8th grade math teachers. This is a huge help! Before, we just had grade level content meetings where just the 8th grade math teachers were meeting. Now we can discuss the changes being made in the standards along with what the students should know by the time they enter the next grade level.
-Another thing my school has are academic coaches. We have a 7-12 math coach who leads content meetings and collaborates with us to assure student learning is taking place. My math coach was in my room several times this year observing, teaching, and co-teaching lessons to benefit my students. By having a math coach, this really helps to get another professional's perspective on what is working for the students and what we still need to improve on.
These are just some ideas that my school uses that have been very beneficial to me as a new teacher. Hope this helps and I enjoyed reading the other comments for ideas!

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Julie R

Dan, I also enjoyed your blog. I agree with your point about talking with your principle to achieve common planning times. I teach Physical Education and one of my first years teaching we all had 4th period plan. Are PLC team was very strong that year and we team teach as well so we could use our planning to work on lessons or units as much as we wanted. Now that we have different planning it is almost impossible to meet as a whole unit. We all coach after school and one of our teachers cannot meet before school so our PLC ends up just once a month now. Still down one teacher it is not as effective. We were also shot down when we asked for common planning periods but are ship ran much smoother during that time.

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Derrick D

I enjoyed reading your blog. My school started PLCs this last year and I feel we face the same issue. I am a special education(EBD) teacher who teaches math three hours of my day. When my school set up PLC teams they placed me on a Algebra PLC team. Although I enjoy working with the Algebra team. The three other EBD teachers and I went to our administrator to see if we could have a special education PLC team. This was shot dow. I like how you talked about making time for two separate PLCs to meet and to alternate weeks. Have you seen this work before? It would be nice to do, but on the weeks that I did not meet with the Algebra group they would still move on as if I were not there.

Also, I totally agree with you when you say you need at least 30 minutes to meet to make it effective. Our PLCs meet for 45 minutes once per week and I believe this is ample time to discuss what we need to. Also having enough time for a recap or time at the beginning to go over the previous weeks topics.

I will have to suggest this to our administration team for next year and see how it goes.

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