Finding ways to expand learning time for both students and teachers has become a critical challenge for districts as they reopen schools next fall. Dallas ISD got a fortuitous head start on this as part of a Texas wide initiative, House Bill 3 that provided resources and support for adding more time to the schools year. The district led an ambitious effort that engaged principals, teachers students and community members with the help of an ERS team to best use this extra time to accelerate and enrich learning, strengthen whole child supports and reimagine the teaching job. The models they created provide inspiring examples of what is possible with extra resources like those provided by ESSER.
Giving schools more time
The Texas law allows for an increase in student and teacher days by about 20 each, going from 73,500 to 83,160 minutes per year, creating an opportunity for teachers to transform every day with students. This additional time would allow for 90 minutes of weekly teacher collaboration, 45 minutes of daily intervention for students, and 30 minutes of small group SEL/Advisory time – all strategies proven to increase student learning and wellbeing.
As a result of having extra time, schools would have much more flexibility to determine what the school day looks like. Time per day would be consistent and include at least four hours of instructional minutes, but that could be achieved with several schedules, allowing schools to determine what works best for their students, teachers, and communities.
One of Dallas ISD’s goals, along with creating better daily schedules, is to make sure there is dedicated time in the schedule during which students are flexibly grouped to receive targeted, small-group instruction. To be successful, this will require:
Use of time and group size can vary based on individual students’ needs. A school may decide to push in all available instructional and non-instructional staff (e.g., instructional specialists, Specials teachers, paraprofessionals, instructional coaches, administrators, counselors, etc.) to reduce group size.
As they created strategies for next school year, the Dallas community made sure to keep teacher experiences top of mind. Rather than making each classroom a silo, where each teacher instructs all their students on their own, Dallas advocated for a Connected Professional Learning model. This would place teachers into teams based on content areas and provide them with collaborative planning time led by instructional experts who have the time and support needed to facilitate.
The experts would lead teachers in shared learning every week for at least 90 consecutive minutes, but they would offer more direct support as well. Content experts would serve as coaches to the teachers in their team, giving regular feedback focused on helping them improve their instructional practice and grounded in rigorous, coherent curricula and assessments.
These resource shifts, only a few of the several Dallas ISD is pursuing, would allow students to have more quality, face-to-face time with teachers who are prepared and practiced. They would create a school year with more instructional hours and significant schedule flexibility – something much welcomed after a year of the ups and downs of pandemic teaching.
Most notable, though, is how the Dallas community, from district leaders to parents and everyone in between, came together to create this plan for the district. Leaders share that it can often be a challenge to engage school and community stakeholders in big district decisions, but this process at Dallas ISD proves that it can, and should, be done.