Making Time for In-Service Training


Time for professional development is one of those strange anomalies in education. Reformers generally acknowledge the critical relationship between time and students’ learning, but rarely recognize the importance of time for teachers’ learning. Many believe the only valid use of teachers’ time is in front of students, and the time they spend reading, planning or collaborating with colleagues is somehow wasted.

If schools are to function as true learning organizations, however, school leaders must support learning for students and educators. Teachers and school administrators need extended time to keep abreast of education’s ever-expanding knowledge base and to regularly upgrade their abilities and craft skills.

To gain this time and have it accepted as a regular part of an educator’s professional responsibilities, two major challenges must be met. First, the traditional school schedule of operations must be restructured to make more professional development time available. And second, that time must be put to good use.

What follows is a description of several restructuring strategies and guidelines for practice that could help to meet these challenges.

Six Strategies
  • Add professional development days to the school calendar.

    Some schools extend teachers’ contracts to include time during summer for workshops, seminars and curriculum development and time during the year for followup, ongoing assistance and continued collaboration. These added days offer special opportunities for teachers to learn in the absence of their ongoing classroom responsibilities and allow administrators to be full participants in professional development activities.

    Providing additional professional development days can be costly, however, and typically requires district-level negotiations. Summer programs also can interfere with other activities such as teaching summer school, attending graduate classes, pursuing part-time jobs or taking family vacations.

  • Add professional development hours to the school day.

    Instead of adding days to the school calendar, some schools simply add time for professional development to each school day. This time may be added before or after regular school hours or may be scheduled during the school day by extending the duty-free lunch time provided to teachers.

    Adding hours to the school day causes little disruption to school schedules and usually is less costly than providing additional contractual days. Because the amount of time that can be added is limited, however, activities and discussions of crucial matters frequently must be cut short. Furthermore, at the end of the school day both teachers and administrators are often too tired to engage in tasks that demand thoughtful contemplation and deliberation.

  • Add professional staff to allow additional release time.

    Some schools hire substitute teachers to relieve regularly assigned teachers so they can engage in planning and consultation, peer observation and coaching or professional study. The major drawback of this approach is that only a few teachers can be released at any one time, thus limiting opportunities for team planning and development. Although it causes little disruption in school schedules, the use of substitute teachers also may disrupt students’ learning, especially if the substitute teachers’ instructional methods differ from those of the regular teachers.

  • Alter the weekly school schedule.

    Some schools redesign their schedules to extend instructional time on Monday through Thursday and then have early dismissal on Friday so teachers and administrators can participate in professional development activities. Common adaptations of this strategy include early dismissal on Wednesday instead of Friday or a later start of the school day on Monday. Early dismissals provide opportunities for shared planning and development since all teachers and administrators are released at the same time. However, this can disrupt many parents’ schedules and may be unworkable in elementary schools that include half-day kindergarten programs.

  • Incorporate block scheduling with provision of a shared planning period.

    Schools using block scheduling often arrange teachers’ schedules so members of the same instructional team or academic department have a common planning block that can be used for professional development. These regular, extended planning periods offer an excellent opportunity for collaboration among teachers with shared interests or responsibilities. Administrators typically arrange their schedules so they can meet regularly with different groups to share in planning and development activities.

    Implementing block scheduling at the elementary level is generally more difficult, however, especially in schools where teachers are responsible for teaching multiple subjects in self-contained classrooms. Arranging class schedules so teachers share a common planning period also requires extensive planning and coordination.

  • Alter daily school or class schedules.

    Collaborative team-teaching and the flexible assignment of special subject teachers are used in many elementary schools to provide added time for professional development. School schedules are coordinated so when students go to special subject classes such as physical education, art, music or library, regular classroom teachers meet to plan or to engage in other types of professional development.

    This strategy frees teachers of their ongoing classroom responsibilities, is relatively inexpensive and allows administrators the option of adjusting their schedules to meet with various groups. Nevertheless, the time made available is relatively short, not all teachers can participate at the same time and extensive planning and coordinated team teaching are required.

  • Guidelines for Success
    All of these strategies have advantages and shortcomings, and all must be adapted to the particular context. In some cases, depending on available resources, multiple strategies may be implemented simultaneously.

    Regardless of the strategy or strategies selected, certain conditions must be met if the additional professional development time is to be used effectively and lead to improved results. Just as allocating more time in school does not guarantee better learning for students, simply providing more time for professional development does not guarantee educators will become more effective.

    To ensure additional professional development time is well spent, consider these guidelines:

  • Time must be focused and purposeful. If professional development is to bring improved results in student learning, then that must be its focus. All professional development activities must center on learning and learners. This focus helps mobilize teachers and administrators, rallying all to a set of shared goals. It fosters the ongoing experimentation that often is necessary to bring new approaches to old problems. It also keeps efforts on task and prevents distraction by peripheral issues that waste time and divert energy.

  • Time must be uninterrupted. Too often the time set aside for professional development is interrupted by other seemingly pressing matters. Faculty issues, phone calls, meetings with parents and individual student problems all compete with professional development time. In addition, the immediate demands of grading papers and homework assignments, providing students with corrective feedback on their work and developing new assignments or projects for students can easily divert attention from professional development activities. If the time allocated to professional development is to be purposeful, it must be protected from such distractions.

  • Time must be results-oriented. Clearly articulated goals enhance both the efficiency and effectiveness of professional development time. They form the criteria by which content and materials are selected, processes and procedures are developed and assessments and evaluations prepared. Without clear goals, however, efforts typically lack coherence and direction and can frustrate even the most dedicated educators.

    Professional development goals should identify the desired student results, as well as the knowledge, skills and classroom or school practices necessary to achieve those results. They also should include a description of how attainment of those goals will be documented or assessed. In other words, what evidence would be trusted to ensure progress is being made or goals have been met? The complexities of most improvement efforts demand multiple indicators to make these judgments, and both intended and unintended consequences should be considered.

    Effective professional development requires adequate time for educators to acquire, practice and reflect on new concepts and skills in collaboration with colleagues. Because time for these types of activities is not normally integrated into the regular school day, school leaders must consider various strategies to make such time available. The strategies described here should provide a starting point in that effort.

    Thomas Guskey is a professor of educational policy studies and evaluation at the University of Kentucky, 131 Taylor Education Building, Lexington, Ky. 40506-0001. E-mail: