Late August in Wisconsin means two important things are happening — school is about to begin and the Green Bay Packers season has officially begun. This year as I was thinking of these two important starts, something occurred to me…could you imagine if the NFL adopted a school’s calendar for their players and schools adopted the Packers’ schedule for their teachers? What a difference that would be?!?!?
Imagine if NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced that the NFL decided that their off season schedule had gotten too long, that all Organized Team Activities (OTAs), rookie camps, training camps, off-season workout programs, mini-camps, and even pre-season games would be eliminated. Instead all teams in the NFL would only be allowed to bring in all of their players (rookies, new free agents, and veterans) and coaches back for 2 DAYS prior to the start of their regular season. During these two days all of the new players would have to be orientated to the NFL, their team, their teammates, their playbook, their offense/defense, etc. Returning players would have two days to learn their new teammates, understand updates to their playbooks, get their lockers set up, etc.; all players would need to get in shape, all practices would be held, all team meetings would take place, etc. Also during the off season only the head coach, and maybe one or two top assistants, would be ‘in the team office’, but as for the rest of the coaching staff, they would only be allowed to return during these same two days. Can you imagine the chaos? Can you imagine the lack of proper preparation? Can you imagine how bad these teams and the game of football overall would be? This is almost so unimaginable…this is just silly!
However, it isn’t silly…in fact its sad…when you consider that it is under very similar circumstances and time frames that all teachers in my district (virtually all teachers/districts of our state) operate like this at the start of the new year, every year. As an administrator, I am one of the ‘coaches’ that is in the office, but with ‘no players’ or opportunities to work together with them or times to implement and practice what we are going to be working on for our upcoming season. This situation is woefully ineffective and incomplete. Don’t get me wrong, I am not blaming the ‘players’ (a.k.a. teachers) I am blaming the system/current practices, as this is no way to operate a team, nor a profession. I know that my ‘players’ work during the off season and get better individually, etc. The challenge for me, as a coach, however is that they are doing this individually and we, as a team, do not get the chance to come together prior to ‘our season’ starting (or even after it has ended for that matter).
The NFL would never go for this and nor should our schools. This model, of having teachers basically leave the day after the last day of school and return 2 or 3 days before the start of the new school year (our ‘season’) starts, is grossly inadequate AND we need to do better. This model was based in a different time, a time when rapid change and advancement was not as prevalent; a time when the stakes were not as high; a time when teachers were allowed to be/encouraged to be professional
‘islands’ – working on their own knowledge, skills, curriculum and classroom; a time when teachers were seen as passive professionals who could be taught everything they needed from their administrators. Now I don’t want to go back and debate the merits of any of these past beliefs, however I will say with 100% certainty that NONE of these mindsets or beliefs have any business in schools today. Our teachers need to want to and be involved beyond their ‘season’. They need to be present during the ‘off season’ to work together, to be involved in collective improvement, to learn new approaches to teaching, to learn about the latest educational technologies, to grow their content area knowledge, to learn about new mental health needs and treatments, to review effective practices, to be directly involved in policy creation and decision making, to review performance data, to work on their curriculums…to improve…to grow professionally…to be involved…to be collaborators…to be leaders. And if any of our ‘players’ do want to be a part of this type of team/situation, because they don’t want to be involved, don’t want to improve, don’t understand this would improve our schools/our profession, don’t see that this would be best for our students, then they should be cut from our rosters.
Put all teachers on 210-day contracts and pay them accordingly. Give them the week after school ends off, have the come back for two weeks to debrief the school year, to work on new learnings and improvement for next year. Give them all of July and the first week in August off because as anyone who is/knows a teacher, they put in enough time during the school year that they need time off and away from their work. Then bring them back two or three weeks before school starts to again work together, to further grow and learn, to prepare for the upcoming school year, etc. All of these things (before and after the school year) that cannot effectively happen during the school year. A lot of people talk about ‘failing schools’ and they propose all kinds of ‘solutions’ (e.g. standardized testing, teacher accountability, charter schools, etc.) to improve our schools, however one easy, surefire step toward improvement is adopting a more NFL-like schedule for our teachers.