How much time are we already wasting?

ClockIn one of my favorite sections of The Passionate Learner, Robert Fried says:

If we are to act boldly on behalf of passionate learners, we will have to stop wasting so much time in school. . . . Most teachers and students waste 50 percent or more of their time in school. I say this with no disrespect. . . .

There are, of course, various ways of wasting time we all acknowledge as such:

  • Teachers trying to get the class to settle down so the lesson can begin
  • Teachers having to deal with kids who are disrupting the learning of others
  • Students talking or daydreaming instead of doing their work
  • Students who come to class without pencil, textbook, paper, or homework

. . . 

But there are other manifestations of wasting time that we may have never even considered:

  • Students having to listen to things that they either already know or can’t understand
  • Teachers obliged to ‘cover’ material that’s required by the school or district but whose value and relevance they deeply question
  • Students not caring about what’s being taught, seeing no connection to their lives
  • Students who just don’t learn well by sitting still and who decide not to pay attention
  • Teachers handing out ‘busy work’ to keep students occupied and in their seats
  • Teachers grading assignments that have been carelessly or sloppily prepared
  • Students who cram for the test but then forget everything as soon as the exam is over

. . . 

Imagine asking yourself every class hour: How regularly do students come to school anticipating that they will be discovering valuable information, practicing useful skills, and engaging in interesting activities and challenging conversations? And imagine viewing everything that hinders or prevents these kinds of engagements as potential time wasters. (pp. 70-72)

I love that big question (and accompanying proposition) in that last paragraph. As we think about ‘learning loss’ during the pandemic, how much time are we already wasting with our students, particularly as we have moved into remote, hyflex, and blended class environments?

Image credit: Clock, Richard Wezensky

2 Responses to “How much time are we already wasting?”

  1. I like this thinking, Scott.

    What’s interesting from the perspective of a PLC guy is that the first question collaborative teams are always supposed to wrestle with is “What do we want our students to know and be able to do?”

    In the process of answering that question, we identify “Need to Knows” v. “Nice to Knows” — and that process often leads teams to “Unnecessary to Knows.”

    Rick DuFour used to call this “organized abandonment” — deciding together what we aren’t going to prioritize in order to genuinely focus on priorities.

    But here’s the hitch: Having worked in PLC schools for over a decade, I can count on one hand the number of times that a school leader openly said, “Teachers — I expect you to identify priorities and ignore content that isn’t essential.”

    And worse yet, knowledge-driven standardized tests — which teachers are often held accountable for — push teachers into the position where covering everything feels essential for “preparing kids for the test.”

    Long story short, I think that most teachers recognize the truth you’ve laid out here — but they don’t feel like acting on it is in their professional best interest.

    Does any of that make sense?

    • Yes, absolutely. Teachers are embedded within school SYSTEMS. And school administrators are in charge of facilitating those systems and ensuring that they are functioning well. So if elements of school systems are ‘off,’ out of alignment, or outright dysfunctional, turn to the admins first…

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