For School Leaders, It’s About Time

By Arielle Derby

The first morning of the Pedagogy of Partnership (PoP) School Leaders’ Institute, I was among the first to arrive. I sat at the table, nursed my coffee, and did the thing that felt the most natural on a weekday morning – checked my school email. As my colleagues from other schools joined us, they succumbed to the same impulse, even as we greeted each other and caught up on events since we had last gathered in the summer. The moment we were asked to take out the artifacts of student work we had brought, however, the mood in the room perceptively shifted. Phones and computers were put away, we sat up a little straighter, we smiled at each other. The eager anticipation to hear and see what each of us had been doing was palpable, and whatever was pulling at our attention from our own schools was pushed aside.

In the world of schools, the biggest gift is time, and the most frequent complaint is that there isn’t enough of it. Teachers and school leaders crave time to reflect, to plan, to sit together and brainstorm, to allow students to follow their passions and dive deep, to collaborate and wonder and revise and innovate. At the PoP School Leaders’ Institute this winter, my colleagues and I from schools in the PoP Day School Fellowship were given the gift of time to do all these things. For two days we had the privilege of leaving our respective schools in other, capable hands while we sat together to learn, wonder, reflect, and plan. It was an incredible gift, and I am grateful for it.

It is also a gift that keeps on giving. During the Institute, we had the opportunity to watch footage of our teachers doing PoP work in their classrooms, and to benefit from one another’s perspectives, suggestions, and questions. We shared resources and got advice and ideas about areas of PoP implementation where we might be struggling. Seemingly small things, such as a PoP-inspired morning meeting routine shared by one of the attendees, were so exciting that I sent off an email to my teachers right away: “I can’t wait to share this awesome idea with you!” Based on the conversation around the table as we closed our time together, I can say with confidence that I am not the only school leader who left newly invigorated to support and nurture the PoP work happening in our classrooms.

The work we have done this year with PoP has already begun to put down roots into the culture of our school. Other teachers have observed or heard about what their colleagues are doing and responded with great interest, or picked up some of the phrasing and prompts themselves. Parents have reported their students bringing up PoP ideas over the dinner table, or reporting that “listening and articulating really helped me when I was rock climbing.” I can so clearly see how this pedagogy is making its mark on our already-established chevruta practice in Judaic Studies and enhancing and shifting the group and partner work in Language Arts and Social Studies. It is a gift, too, to have two years to settle into a new idea and grow with it, and we are only a third of the way through this time. I returned from New York invigorated, and I can hardly wait to see what fruit we will be harvesting at the end of our official time with PoP. I am certain that because of the time that the PoP Day School Fellowship has invested in us, the leaders and teachers, that the tools, habits of mind and of speech, and teaching moves that we are learning now will be a part of the school for a long time beyond the fellowship.

Arielle Derby is the Elementary School Director at Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School of the Nation’s Capital. Arielle is participating in the first cohort of the Pedagogy of Partnership (PoP) Day School Fellowship and is the PoP school leader at her school.