Teacher Voices for Education Reform: Making the Most of Time in School

For classroom educators, the issue of time in school is more complex than simply extending the daily schedule or changing the annual calendar. Those factors are significant, but what ultimately matters is how we use the time in school to the greatest benefit of our students. Recognizing that classroom educators possess the practical experience to envision the most creative, thoughtful and meaningful solutions on how to utilize time in school issue, the National Education Association invited its members in seven states to envision how they would restructure time in school to best meet the needs of today’s students.


If you could redesign the school structure to best fit the needs of your students at this moment of rapid change, what would the school day, week and year look like?

NEA invited its members in seven states — Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Washington — to participate in this VIVA Idea Exchange. A total of 348 members posted 145 ideas and shared 348 comments with one another.

“For me, the idea to get teacher voices from multiple perspectives and experiences to influence education policy is transformational,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “The length of year may be part of the answer, but what do we do from the first to the last day of a student’s experience? The ideas and decisions have to be generated by the expertise and thoughts of teachers in the classroom.”


  1. Develop educational program recommendations that integrate with a revised school calendar to promote increased teacher collaboration.
  2. Group students by ability, not by age, to create an academic environment in which they are more likely to succeed.
  3. Lengthen the school day and the school year.
  4. Restructure the school day so that activities and instructional time take place when it is developmentally appropriate for elementary, middle and high schools.
  5. Enable local school districts to provide equitable and ample resources and make better use of existing resources to address their diverse needs.
  6. Revise federal policies to better support a balance of strong local control policies with civil rights and equity for all students.
  7. Conduct a campaign to promote awareness of the importance of reforming the school calendar.

Collaboration, Not Confrontation, Is the Way to Real Reform

This post was written by Allan Fluharty, a VIVA Teacher Leader from Chicago, as his union, the Chicago Teachers Union, prepared to take a strike authorization vote. The Chicago Public Schools district has offered a five-year contract with a 2 percent pay raise in the first year while it launches a new school calendar that includes a longer school day.  Allan teaches high school science.

By Allan Fluharty
VIVA Teacher Leader

Teachers on StrikeThe new approach to education reform is to blame the teachers’ unions for everything going wrong with our public schools.

It seems to me these “reformers” are forgetting a couple of things:

1. The teachers union is made up of teachers, the people who spend their days with your children and dedicate their careers to helping them learn.

2. The teachers who belong to the unions are the people who know what your children need to learn and succeed. However, we rarely get asked to share what we know.

There’s a better way, one that would work for all of us–teachers, unions, children, parents, administrators and, yes, even politicians. Listen to teachers. Ask us what we need to succeed. Ask us what we know would help children learn.

That’s what happened when VIVA Teachers came to town last year. The nonprofit asked Chicago Public School teachers for their ideas about how to use time in school in a way that would serve students better. I was a part of the group that wrote the report, “VIVA Chicago Project: Time, Teachers, and Tomorrow’s Schools.”

We came up with 49 recommendations–49!–based on ideas shared by 600 of our colleagues.

There’s another report, also written by CPS teachers, that was published by the CTU. It’s called, “The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve: Research-Based Proposals to Strengthen Elementary and Secondary Education in the Chicago Public Schools.”

Why are teachers taking the fall for public education’s failings? We are the solution, not the problem. Collaboration, not confrontation, is the way to real education reform that works for students, parents, the community and, yes, even teachers.

VIVA Teacher Leaders on WBEZ

Teachers facing longer school days consider best use of additional time

January 27, 2012, Produced by Eight Forty-Eight

(AP/M. Spencer Green)
With a longer school day, CPS teachers look for ways to use the extra class time to most benefit their students.

What’s in a day? Well that’s what a group of Chicago teachers has been asking its colleagues–and after hundreds of hours of work, the VIVA Project of Chicago came up with 49 recommendations for how best to use classroom time. The project is in response to Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s mandate to lengthen the school day. So what do teachers want? Well, Eight Forty-Eight invited a group of teachers who were part of the project to share their suggestions: Kori Milroy is a grade school science teacher on the West Side, Dave Quanz is the technology coordinator at a Logan Square elementary school and Brian Graves teaches third grade at a Hyde Park school. Eight Forty-Eight was also joined by Heather DeCook, a third grade teacher at Riverview Elementary School in South Beloit, Illinois.

Click here to download mp3 of the segment

VIVA Teacher leaders co-author CPS report on recess

VIVA Teacher leaders Kori Milroy and David Quanz were asked by CPS to co-author a report on how principals should implement recess into the full school day. Read the full CPS press release.

Chicago Public Schools Partner with Viva Teachers to Develop Resource Guide as Schools Plan to Integrate Recess into Full School Day

Feedback from 600 CPS teachers via the Viva Project will help shape district’s recess proposal for the 2012/2013 school year

January 17, 2012

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) today announced they are co-writing a recess guide with teachers from the Viva Project that will assist principals in developing their own recess plans for next school year as recess, as part of the Full Day initiative, is implemented across all district elementary schools.  This guide will build upon the recess guide that was developed last year, and includes input from representatives from community organizations such as Healthy Schools Campaign, Raise Your Hand, and Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI).

The VIVA Project is an independent organization that works to increase classroom teachers’ participation in education issues across the country.  Last December, the VIVA Project, in partnership with National Louis University, launched the VIVA Teachers’ Chicago Ideas Exchange, a project that solicited the feedback of nearly 600 CPS teachers in developing recommendations for the Full School Day. The ideas in the recess guide will be rooted in the recommendations set forth in VIVA’s collaborative report written by the members of the Idea Exchange.

“The Viva Project’s Teachers’ Chicago Ideas Exchange has turned out to be an incredible resource for us to ensure that teachers, who have a critical voice and perspective in this process, can help shape how to best utilize the Full School Day,” said CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard. “Recess is a key part of the full day and studies show that having time for recess not only promotes lifelong habits of healthy living, but also increases the likelihood of a student’s success in the classroom.”

The VIVA Project teachers offered many suggestions for the Full School Day, including recommending that schools be given flexibility in shaping their school day, promoting creative scheduling strategies like double blocks, and presenting recommendations for time allotments by groups of grade levels, rather than separate allotments for each grade.

“I’m glad to see that some of our ideas for the school day are actually being implemented.  Teachers know first-hand what our students need, but oftentimes we are the last ones to be asked for input. The VIVA project changed that by allowing every teacher in the district to have a say. The professionals at Central Office have been incredibly responsive to our ideas, which is wonderful,” said Kori Milroy, teacher from Skinner West elementary school and co-writer of the resource guide.

The resource guide will include recommendations that will assist principals in addressing various issues that arise in scheduling recess such as; ensuring the safety of all students and making accommodations for students with disabilities.  This guide will be particularly helpful for those principals who did not previously have time to provide recess in the past.

VIVA Chicago Teachers Project Launches

The high volume “debate” over extending the school day for Chicago Public Schools students has left Chicago taxpayers, parents and many teachers wondering what we’re actually fighting about. A longer school day? A better school day? Whatever you call it, we want to know how exactly it will help Chicago’s 400,000+ public school students.

There is a better way to ensure that decisions made in the offices of government leaders, legislatures, and boardrooms ultimately play out in the best interests of students: Ask the classroom teachers.

Legislation has ruled that Chicago Public Schools will lengthen the day by 90 minutes beginning next fall. There are legitimate questions about that which will be settled at the bargaining table. But there also are big questions about how to use that additional time to improve student learning. That’s why we are launching The VIVA Chicago Teachers Project.

The VIVA (Voices Ideas Vision Action) Project is a new way to connect big systems to the experts who work in them.  Using cutting edge technology, we conduct online collaborations that give any teacher a chance to share ideas with each other and create solutions together that will improve the chances that the policies made at the highest levels actually work  inside classrooms.

Too often in the heated debate over education reform, whether at the state, national or local level, we forget who the real experts are.

The teachers who spend their days teaching, cajoling, entertaining, nurturing and engaging students in the classroom and then spend more hours of their day consulting with colleagues, planning tomorrow’s lessons, grading papers, keeping parents up to date, and looking for great resources to hone their own skills are the people who know best what students need to excel.

We spend so much time deriding the “bad” teachers that we forget most teachers are good. They want to be treated like the professionals they are. They want to be consulted before policy is written. They want someone to listen when they talk about how that policy plays out in their classrooms and affects their students.

Too often the conflicts over contracts get all the press while teachers in classrooms across the city are focused on figuring out how to reach the kid who still hasn’t learned to read or the one who has trouble sitting at a desk or the one who falls asleep 10 minutes after school starts.

There are studies and professors and administrators and consultants who have ideas about the best way to use time in class to ensure students learn. We want to know what the real experts—CPS classroom teachers—believe will help their students learn.  It’s time we bring those two perspectives together.

The VIVA Chicago Teachers Project, which launches Oct. 13, will give all Chicago Public School teachers a chance to do what they so rarely get to do: exchange ideas with one another and take a step back from their daily work to connect the dots to education policy.  With a little time, and their own professional space, we know that they will share their ideas for making school work for their students and their peers. They will issue a summary of their best ideas in the coming weeks.

After all the debate, isn’t time we all listened more closely to what teachers are saying?