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Q&A with the Monroe school district: Collaboration time and early release Mondays

Editor's note: The following Q&A is derived from information provided by the Monroe school district about its ongoing professional collaboration time and early release Mondays. Four more topics in the series will follow: Technology, April 16; PBIS, May 7; grading, May 21; and safety, June 4.

MONROE - This is the third school year that the Monroe school district has had early release each week. Students get out of school approximately one hour before the normal time on most Mondays, allowing for professional collaboration time.

Previously, the district included several inservice days throughout the school year to allow for this staff collaboration time. In order to provide more frequent opportunities for collaboration time throughout the school year, the district redistributed this in-service time to improve instruction and therefore increase student achievement. Research has consistently demonstrated that collaboration between teachers can be a powerful tool for professional development and a driver for school improvement.

What do you mean by "staff collaboration time" and is it really necessary?

It's time set aside for our teachers to come together and coordinate instruction. They are meeting to review and enhance curriculum, standards and instructional practices. They are also monitoring student progress. During this time, staff may also have professional development books studies, webinars or training that's required for all staff.

Schools improve when teachers are given the time and support to work together to clarify essential student learning, develop common assessments for learning, analyze evidence of student learning, and use that evidence to learn from one another. This consistent, frequent and structured time is dedicated solely for the purpose of accomplishing work that may otherwise need to be accomplished by pulling teachers out of the classroom and in turn compromising instruction for students.

How do we know this is an effective use of time?

There have been clear expectations, measurable goals and accountability embedded into this in-service time. All schools are being held to higher expectations and it is necessary to be mindful of the work involved in meeting these expectations. Some of the hallmarks of professional collaboration time is that it is organized and intentional, and it is conducted with a clear and specific goal in mind.

Why does it have to be on Monday? Why couldn't early release be on Friday?

Our teachers, just like students and parents, are tired after a long work week. We find Mondays are ideal for staff collaboration time: Staff is refreshed, and any ideas or plans discussed during the Monday collaboration time can be implemented immediately the next day.

Another benefit of having early release on Mondays is that because there is no 4K on Mondays, the schedules coincide.

What do other parents and teachers think about how it's working?

We've found strong support for the one-hour early release time on Monday. The majority preferred early-release Mondays to other scheduling models, such as half-day or full-day inservices.

In a report shared with the Board of Education in January 2015, 72 percent of families reported they supported the redistribution of in-service time to the one-hour early release, one time per week. The majority of families, almost 60 percent, also favored having this early release on Monday.

Only 3 percent of staff indicated the time was not valuable to them as an educator. Staff members report, "Our grade level team has spent many of our Mondays together to make many decisions about new curriculum, common assessments and to share great teaching strategies. Having a set common time to work on student outcomes has been nice. Also, meeting more frequently with the other grade level teams keeps us all moving in the right direction."

Are early release Mondays going to be a permanent thing?

The 2016-2017 school calendar is structured similarly with in-service time taking place on Mondays. We will continue to frequently assess our effectiveness and make adjustments as necessary. We will also continue to collect feedback from parents regarding how in-service time is distributed across the school year.