Common Planning Time: It's About the Work

Common planning time translates teacher will, skill, and time into personalized, responsive, and effective planning structures
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About This Strategy

The practice of common planning time (CPT) is more than scheduling a common time for a group of teachers to meet. The purpose of CPT needs to be specific, clear, and supported as an autonomous (or at least semi-autonomous) practice where teachers personalize their professional responsibilities and learning. Together, teachers use common planning time to strengthen their practice, learn new practices, share what they've learned, and divide or share the day-to-day planning of lessons and activities. This strategy provides an overview of how to set CPT expectations and routines and identifies ways to support CPT so that it is effective, relevant, and productive.

Implementation Steps

  1. When planning for the next school year, as schedules begin to solidify, include common planning time (CPT) as a priority for grade-level and subject-specific teaching teams. If you have teachers who are “the only one” teaching a grade level or subject, put them onto CPT teams. Keep in mind that what all teachers have in common is that everyone prioritizes student learning and climate.

  2. Create a calendar with at least one CPT per week, but try to create a structure of one CPT a day. This allows instructional leaders to have access to some of the CPT time while still giving teachers most of the control over it.

  3. List the primary district and school initiatives and who is supporting them. Try to keep the number low (two to three is ideal).

  4. Set expectations for the use of CPT time that is not being used by instructional support personnel. The goal is to create a balance between ensuring the time is well spent and providing teachers with autonomy. Some examples of expectations:

    • Collaborative lesson planning

    • Planning for Collegial Observations (see the Collegial Observation strategy in the BetterLesson lab)

    • Writing common assessments

    • Studying curriculum 

      • new curriculum

      • culturally responsive materials

    • Implementing student-centered instructional strategies and models

    • Identifying and intervening with students at risk 

  5. Set the expectation with initiative sponsors that they “own” some of teachers’ collaborative time. Be specific and proactive in contacting the personnel who are supporting initiatives to describe the plan of providing them with CPT access once or twice a month, and ask if and how they plan to support it. A school counselor assigned to an elementary school, for example, is probably not able to attend a CPT but can model the next module and discuss the curriculum, with implementation tips, at a monthly faculty meeting.

  6. Be aware of the demands on teachers. When putting a new expectation on teachers, such as a new curriculum or initiative, take something else off. See the coach tips below for more on this important and often overlooked step.

  7. At the start of the school year, collaboratively establish with teachers what the primary and secondary focus areas are for professional learning, new curriculum, etc., and the structures and personnel for how these will be supported. Ask teachers to make a proposal for what structure of support would work best for them, within the criteria you’ve set out. Ask teachers to determine semester/trimester leadership of grade-level and subject-specific teams (if you can avoid assigning it).

    • For example, if you tell the teaching community that the major initiative of the year is working with coaches to better personalize student learning, and that they will receive personal coaching every other week, then on those weeks there should be reduced professional learning or faculty expectations (i.e., faculty meetings, PD).

  8. Offer support to teacher leaders on how to:

    • Set goals for their collaborative teams (using expectations for their work time)

    • Document and gather data and evidence to show improvements in student learning

    • Craft effective agendas for CPT

    • Facilitate meetings

  9. No later than the week preceding the upcoming month, finish and circulate the CPT calendar for the upcoming month, showing when the CPT time is dedicated to specific tasks or initiatives, and indicating which personnel will set the agenda so that the initiative continues to move forward. See this example.

  10. Drop in on CPT time. Try to make this a common occurrence so that it feels normal. Offer ongoing support to teacher leaders.

Coach Tips

Cheryl Belknap
BetterLesson Instructional Coach
  1. When setting the purpose, use, and schedule for CPT, your first thought should be, “What does this have to do with the mission of the school?” Or, to simplify, “What does this have to do with learning?” That prioritizes, as well as justifies, your planning decisions.

  2. There is only one person in the school building who can “own” teachers’ time, and that is the principal. Everyone else must work within the structure the principal establishes. There are possible exceptions where district level personnel such as Special Education and Curriculum directors (assistant superintendent, etc.) enter into the power structure. Ultimately, your role is to support the teachers to be effective, well-planned, educators of students. It is vital that you collegially establish with district personnel that they are clear what they want from teachers before approaching them.

  3. Clearly establish that you are the only person who can add to teachers’ calendars. When teachers’ time is requested by other departments, try to establish a structure wherein one teacher can represent the group. Ask your teachers for suggestions to lessen the impact of demands such as additional meetings, duties, etc. that take them away from their teaching responsibilities - including planning time.

  4. When putting a new expectation on teachers, take something else off. There are two meanings to this:

    • Always find out first what is “in place” before adding anything new to teacher responsibilities. For example, take inventory of curriculum annually to provide a quick reference as to what is in place. If a new literacy coach brings in a new handwriting curriculum, new teachers might take it as a given that this is the sole curriculum for teaching handwriting, but veterans might wonder if this replaces or supplements a curriculum that’s been in place for years.

    • Schools have a tendency to implement multiple initiatives. There may be urgency around the need to “get math fixed” while also tackling a social-emotional curriculum, a new CPT and/or PLC structure, coaching, mentoring, and so on. It is the school leader’s responsibility to weight these initiatives, because teachers cannot effectively focus on multiple things at the same time, particularly in the school environment which is demanding and dynamic. Once the school leader determines what the main priority is, the next steps are to determine what is the lowest priority and whether it can wait.

    • Simultaneously, look at the school structures that are already in place. If coaching and mentoring are part of the school landscape, how much of the support for a specific initiative can fit into that existing structure? Can a lesser initiative be covered in faculty meeting time? In an elementary setting, could one teacher at each grade level take on the learning about the new math approach, be the author of those lesson plans, and be supported in disseminating to the group by co-teaching and modeling? That might mean supplying substitutes, but it could change a significant demand into a manageable, job-embedded, professional learning experience.

  5. Having difficulty narrowing the number of initiatives down to two-to-three? For example, the district is implementing a new reading curriculum, which literacy coaches are supporting, there are new science kits, and the school is in year two of putting a social-emotional curriculum into place, which is supported by a one-day training, materials, and a monthly co-teaching experience with the school counselor. Consider, once the social-emotional curriculum process is in place, can you then lessen that access to CPT so that science kits can be supported instead? Could the social-emotional curriculum modules be modeled during a monthly faculty meeting?

Tech Tools

Google Docs

  1. Google Docs is an online word processor (part of Google Apps) that allows you create and edit documents collaboratively in a web browser.

  2. Google Docs supports this strategy by creating shared documents, such as agendas, calendars, and documentation.

Google Drive

  1. Google Drive is both a versatile cloud storage device and a provider of apps, such as docs, sheets, and forms.

  2. Google Drive provides a shared location to organize and keep all of the elements needed to support CPT, including evidence that is uploaded.

Google Calendar

  1. Google Calendar is an online calendar program that allows you to schedule meetings and events and get reminders about upcoming activities. Calendar is designed for teams, to share your schedule with others and create multiple calendars that you and your team can use together.

  2. Google Calendar would allow you to create separate calendars, such as a CPT calendar, a Special Education calendar, and a school events calendar. These calendars can be owned separately and shared, added to, and viewed individually or collectively. If teachers also use a Google Calendar to keep track of additional demands such as a parent meeting, or a coordinated event with another grade level or classroom then all calendars can be viewed together to determine if there are conflicts and to keep watch for times that demands exceed reasonable expectations of teachers.

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