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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Let’s Recapture Some Time

By Jon Harper — June 08, 2014 4 min read
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Today’s guest blog is written by Jon Harper, who is currently the vice principal of Choptank Elementary School located in Cambridge, Maryland.

Today my son is 3 years, 1 month and 14 days old.

And he never was before.

And he never will be again.

Time is the one thing that moves on whether we want it to or not. We can’t slow it down and we can’t speed it up. We’ve tried unsuccessfully to do both for years with no results yet to speak of. It is something we always wish we had more of, and yet we spend ours, and even worse, we control others’ as if it was in unlimited supply.

In a piece for The Washington Post, titled “Time On Testing: 738 Minutes in 3 weeks” Adam Heenan, a Chicago school teacher and member of the Chicago Teachers Union wrote the following:

My colleagues and I are tired of the obsessive testing culture in our school. We just want to teach. And judging by all the petitions, testimonials and even wristbands we’ve seen echoing that sentiment, this is a national problem, not just ours.

We need to know how much time and money test-driven policymakers have diverted from teaching and learning into testing, and to show what we could be doing with those resources instead. Because, let’s face it: You only live once, and we can’t afford to waste precious minutes of our children’s education.

Time at School

While I agree with Heenan that entirely too much time is spent on testing, my concern is not with time diverted away from teaching. My concern is that time is diverted away from life. If we are going to make a concerted effort to recapture minutes/hours/days for our children, then we need to be prepared to use them wisely once we are successful.

In his piece, Reimagining Schools: What Does That Mean? Peter DeWitt reminds us that “We need to keep in mind that schools serve a need other than learning.” Our children are crying out for social and emotional guidance. If we are able to successfully recapture some time, which I am certain we can, then maybe just maybe, it can be spent helping our children cope with this incredibly complex game we call Life.

Whatever we do we can not use this recaptured time for things like mini-lessons, facts practice or re-teaching. There is nothing wrong with either of these educational practices. It’s just that if we are going to claim to be recapturing time for children then we must give this time back to them and not simply disguise it in sheep’s clothing.

Time at Home

Anyone with school-aged children has undoubtedly had to fight the Homework Battle. It’s not fun. It’s not productive, and it does nothing whatsoever to help strengthen the parent-child bond. In the short time that I have been on Twitter I have seen many educators tweet photos of happy children participating in various afterschool and evening activities but I have yet to see an educator, parent or child tweet a picture of them happily completing a homework assignment.

Unfortunately, the time that parents and children get to spend together after school is slowly dwindling away. Parents are working longer days and children are participating in more and more after school activities. This combination leads to very little quality time for parents and children. That is a shame because the time together afterschool is something that must happen to build a parent-child relationship.

What’s Next?

In his book Outliers Malcolm Gladwell writes about what he calls the 10,000 Hour Rule. Gladwell spent much time researching and studying what it takes to be great at something. He carefully examined studies of people that were very successful in their field and determined that in order to become an expert at something one must spend approximately 10,000 or more hours practicing their craft. The Beatles and Bill Gates were just two examples that he used to illustrate how hours and hours of practice can lead to greatness.

For those of you still with me you’re probably wondering how a discussion of recapturing minutes for children and parents suddenly made a quantum leap to 10,000 hours.

Whether or not we agree with Gladwell’s assertion that 10,000 hours of practice would lead to greatness, I think we can all agree that 10,000 hours of practice would lead to something pretty darned good. And if that is the case then why don’t we shift our focus? Let’s stop thinking about how to help our children become the next LeBron James or the next Mark Zuckerburg and let’s start thinking about how we can help our child become the happiest or kindest child ever.

Most children go to school about 8 hours a day for 14 years. This means that by the time a child graduates they will have spent approximately 20,000 hours in school. This is double the amount of time that Gladwell asserts it takes to become great at something! I think we owe it to our children to gear at least half of their time with us to achieving greatness! In all honesty, who are we to rob them of a single minute?

What did Gladwell discover about 20,000 hours of practice? Hmmm. I can only imagine.

Let’s take it a step further. Why not try to build the best parent child relationship the world has ever seen? A parent would only need to spend a little over an hour and a half of quality time with their child each day to reach 10,000 hours by the time they graduated from high school. I can do this! I will do this, even if it requires doubling up for lost days.

When I began writing this piece my son was 3 years, 1 month and 14 days old. He never will be again. Today he is one day older. I can’t give him yesterday back. But I can make sure that his todays and tomorrows are meaningful and I can treat them like they are a precious commodity. Because they are and he is.

Let’s recapture some time! Who’s with me?

Connect with Jon on Twitter.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.