March 10, 2014
Professional Release - time embedded into the educational schedule that provides the opportunity for staff to collaborate, plan, and grow professionally in order to enhance the academic achievement of students. As the Helena School District pursues the vision of enabling more students to learn through a guaranteed and viable curriculum, it is understood that student learning starts with adult learning.
Adult learning, which is professional development offered to staff, has changed over the years. Teachers are required and, in most cases, welcome training that occurs through workshops and classes offered mostly during non-teaching schedules, summers, weekends, or evenings. This time provides an intense emersion into specific knowledge that the teachers can then incorporate into their strategies. For years now, since at least the 1990s, educators have known that a deeper understanding and implementation of research-proven strategies can occur if staff receives ongoing, job-embedded professional development. As Eaker and Keating state in their work, Every School, Every Team, Every Classroom, “District leaders must realize that if they really mean it when they proclaim ensuring high levels of student learning as the district’s core purpose, they must focus on ensuring deep learning for the adults in the district as well and that deep learning will most likely occur when the adults learn by doing”.
The challenge for all districts, and one facing Helena Public Schools, is balancing consistent professional release time throughout the year with student instructional time and family schedules. Over the past couple of years the schedules seem to hit the opposite ends of the pendulum. First it was four whole days dispersed throughout the year. Although thankful that this time was available, it proved to be inefficient use of time as the days were long and too far apart. This year the professional release time was shorter and occurred more often as the elementary schools took a half day once per month and the high school had a late start every other week. This schedule was not conducive for our families and the inconsistency throughout the district offered its challenges.
The District is now seeking to find a balance in which the professional release time can be offered on a consistent basis with minimal impact to both student learning time and family schedules. It seems like a pretty tall order; however we can look at successes in other districts to find examples. One example that is widely used and meets the above criteria is a weekly one hour professional release time. This schedule calls for schools to start one hour late, one day a week for all students K-12. The impact on student contact time is the same amount of time of other schedules; just broken into smaller pieces. Of the hour late-start in this scenario, 20 minutes would be carved out of the traditional before school time and 40 minutes would come from student instructional time. The one hour would be the same day every week to offer a consistency to all schedules. Busing and breakfast schedules would be adjusted that day so those services to students would still be offered.
As the Helena School District moves forward and continually improves to offer each child a quality education, embedded professional release time is essential. Adult learning enhances student learning and we must strive to provide our teachers with on-going professional development so they can reach each child. Please stay engaged and offer your input in this process as the District fine-tunes its professional release time. Please do not hesitate to contact me or your child’s principal as we work through this process.
Kent Kultgen, Ed.D.