So, what can teachers do to foreclose the interruptive culture?

How can we resolve this matter? We can begin by joining with colleagues to gather data for a specified amount of time (for example, a month) by recording all interruptions in a given time period.… Once we collect evidence, we should compile the data and bring it to the attention of the administration and ask for help to eliminate or reduce all interruptions. Bringing evidence to support our concerns moves the conversation away from complaining to one voicing concern for improving conditions for instruction.

I cannot imagine the PA operating during class time if everyone declared it off limits; many schools already function without it, including large high schools. I cannot imagine any office staff, guidance counselor, administrator, or fellow teacher entering a classroom uninvited during a lesson if we have declared this behavior unacceptable. One exception is walkthroughs, or learning walks, which are acceptable only if they are integral to the system of instruction in the school and are well understood by teachers and students alike. And, maintenance personnel who operate cleaning machines in hallways or mow the lawn outside classroom windows will have to do so before or after school.…

Another idea I learned (from where I’m not sure) reduces interruptions for elementary teachers. Instead of scheduling the arts, music, computer, and physical education (PE) “specials” for grades 1–5 every day, a school arranged to have “specials” for each grade all on one day. Not only do teachers have uninterrupted days on the other four, but they also had the opportunity to collaborate one day per week! Perhaps schools could schedule specials to occur only on two days and then plan on two half-days for collaborative planning. We would then achieve two essential changes in the culture of the school: interruptions and isolation reduced!

Classrooms ultimately belong to students and should be considered learning sanctuaries. Once we recognize this principle and remember the precious little time we have to create effective learning opportunities, we will not tolerate interference. We already contend with far too many outside dictates that cut into our ability to teach effectively—including excessive interruptions to administer standardized tests. As long as we are complicit with an interruptive school culture, we will perpetuate short-segment teaching resulting in short-term learning. By deciding to reduce interruptions as much as possible, we set in motion the primary imperative of the classroom. It’s up to us, then, to use this time wisely.

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Perhaps Principal Tim Healey said it best after observing a secretary making an all-school PA announcement on a trivial matter: “Mediocre schools make decisions that are based on what is convenient for secretaries and administrators. Great schools make decisions that maximize and guard instructional time.”

Are you on board with these ideas? If you are, what will do to have them happen in your school?

For more on this crucial issue see Chapter 13 “Stop the Interruptions” in Teaching from the Middle of the Room: Inviting students to Learn from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Teaching-Middle-Room-Frank-Thoms/dp/0615358918.

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