The Working Sabbatical: One Year of Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose

Building an ambivalent army of intrinsically motivated learners who teach others how to learn & reach their greatest potential as educators.

Photo of Eric Patnoudes

Written by

I'm particularly interested in the topic of motivation in terms of the conditions that need to be present to get people to take action. In this instance, when I became an instructional technologist, I had much greater autonomy and time to learn based on what I thought was interesting and also beneficial for other teachers to understand when effectively integrating technology into the classroom.

In my mind, my skills grew exponentially over the course of just one year because I had the time needed to network with thought leaders, reflect on my own practices and experiment in a low risk environment. As a result, I felt re-energized, enthusiastic and extremely confident in what I learned. 

The downside was that I was given very little time to share any of this with teachers and often got push back from teachers who would say things like, "Yeah, but you're not in the classroom anymore. You don't teach these kids and those ideas are cool, but they won't work for me."

I like to imagine what would have happened had gone back into the classroom after that one year and had the chance to apply what I learned. There's no telling what the results would have been, but I'm always the optimist and think the findings would be pretty stellar.

I want replicate that experience by rewarding an exemplar teacher and giving them a one year "working sabbatical" if you will, where the teacher gets to learn purely based on what motivates them and the autonomy and time to do so. As mentioned above, in return they will share what they've learned within the district through blogging and professional development. After 12 months, they return to the classroom a... new teacher full of enthusiasm, new ideas and creative confidence. 

I also picture that over time, the teachers who are selected to participate in this program form an advisory board or think tank of sorts responsible for being a resource to new entrants to the program. They would also collaborate with other think tanks in the region, do R&D and well... I could go on and on and hope you see where I'm going with this.

I think one of the crucial aspects of this program is that teachers get selected based on a track record of pedagogical excellence and this program is a reward for their hard work. Therefore, setting the bar in a school for teachers to strive for pedagogical excellence if they desire one year away from the classroom full of autonomy, mastery and purpose. 

I have a lot of ideas in my head about this and hope to leverage the collective intelligence of this group to find a way to make this work.

16 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Photo of Moss Pike
Team

The first thing that strikes me about the idea is that it's based on "pushing" rather than "pulling," as many teacher PD programs tend to do. The incentive of a sabbatical year focusing on our own growth can thus be powerful motivation.

There are number of details and questions we can consider, too, including requirements for participating in the program. In addition to maintaining a record of growth activities and reflection through blogging, what else does the program involve? Presenting at conferences or leading workshops at the school and/or district? Is there a stipend to cover costs? What other structure can we provide for the 12 months of the program?

I also wonder how we might handle coverage for the courses our sabbatical winner will vacate for the year. Perhaps we can use it as an opportunity to train new teachers at the same time? What if we welcomed green teachers into the field by having them cover courses and doing other things to prepare them for a career in teaching (e.g., helping with administrative tasks, advisory programs, parent programs, etc.)?

Lots of other things to think about, and I'm looking forward to working with this idea over the next few weeks! Thanks again, Eric, for getting it started!

Photo of John Faig
Team

Moss Pike I also wondered about the program length being 12 months long.  Maybe the PD could be a menu of shorter programs (1 to 4 weeks).  This would provide teachers with a choice and time to practice what they learn and try it out on their class quickly. 

Photo of Eric Patnoudes
Team

My thoughts on the 12 months for this to happen:
- Nearly every district has an Instructional Technologist, TOSA etc. View this as one year in one of those roles.
- Each school or district who adopts this idea would have a full time "sub" who fills in for the teacher on the working sabbatical. 
- Teacher gets selcted, the sub fills in for one year. Next teacher gets selected, the sub fills in for the following year. 
- The sub will remain a full time district employee and will always be responsible for filling the classroom vacated by the teacher on sabbatical.
- Keep in mind, it is a "working sabbatical." They will have time to explore, but also expectations to share and provide training and PD on what they are learning. 

Photo of Heather Tyler
Team

Moss Pike and Eric Patnoudes I can see this year (or half year, or trimester, or quarter) sabbatical working.  I definitely agree that part of the time would be the expectation to share what you're learning throughout the process. What if part of the time was also spent collaborating with other teachers/schools/districts/organizations working on similar ideas? Then the learning would be reaching an even wider community and (hopefully) lasting partnerships would be built.  The biggest question, of course, is where would the $ come from.  I know that there is more flexibility in the new LCAP way of district funding, so we may want to find some people who are more knowledgable about the LCAP and funding to find possible ways to pay for salaries, workshops, etc.  

Photo of Erin Earnshaw
Team

A few thoughts:
I like the idea of it being shorter than 12 months also. I think it would be more feasible and more motivating to have shorter deadlines to implement ideas.  Thinking about the teacher who would sub in different classes each year, it would be difficult to switch curriculum and grade levels that often for entire years. What about quarters instead? Or units. They would have a strong idea of their start and finish responsibilities without the pressure of an entire year of planning.

 I know as a learner, I would do best to take in what I was learning from my professional development and be able to apply it immediately. Waiting a year to be back in the classroom might take away from that learning phase.

I also like it being a district roving employee instead of each school, which would help out a small school like mine which is only 4 teachers.

I think there should be a meeting area somewhere, or schedule with some lesson study teams throughout similar areas or schools. Another advantage of great professional development is connecting with teachers from other schools to observe and bounce ideas off of.  We have been trying to continue lesson studies we did with Tonya Ward Singer but it has been difficult to schedule just within my school. Having something in place to join up with would be a real help.

Just some of my current thoughts.

Photo of Emma Scripps
Team

Eric! wow. This is an awesome post. I love the idea of providing more opportunity for educators to take immersive sabbaticals where they can learn about the world for which they're preparing their students to enter. Lots of questions about how this might work at scale, right? Is this a sort of district-based solution? Might it become a program/scholarship fund? Etc. Lots of ways to structure it.

Think Jess would be great to give you some pointers on working with teams with The Guild, FYI. We've learned some best practices over the past couple of collaborations.
Emma

Photo of Eric Patnoudes
Team

My thoughts on the 12 months for this to happen:
- Nearly every district has an Instructional Technologist, TOSA etc. View this as one year in one of those roles.
- Each school or district who adopts this idea would have a full time "sub" who fills in for the teacher on the working sabbatical.
- Teacher gets selcted, the sub fills in for one year. Next teacher gets selected, the sub fills in for the following year.
- The sub will remain a full time district employee and will always be responsible for filling the classroom vacated by the teacher on sabbatical.
- Keep in mind, it is a "working sabbatical." They will have time to explore, but also expectations to share and provide training and PD on what they are learning.

Photo of Sarah Lundy
Team

Eric, could you see this idea working on a shorter time span (like the 15 days as Christina Jenkins has "Ideated" elsewhere on the Guild)?

Photo of Eric Patnoudes
Team

Hi Sarah, my thoughts on the 12 months for this to happen:

- Nearly every district has an Instructional Technologist, TOSA etc. View this as one year in one of those roles.

- Each school or district who adopts this idea would have a full time "sub" who fills in for the teacher on the working sabbatical.

- Teacher gets selected, the sub fills in for one year. Next teacher gets selected, the sub fills in for the following year.

- The sub will remain a full time district employee and will always be responsible for filling the classroom vacated by the teacher on sabbatical.

- Keep in mind, it is a "working sabbatical." They will have time to explore, but also expectations to share and provide training and PD on what they are learning.

Photo of Christina Jenkins
Team

I had a similar experience as a tech coach in the same school where I began my teaching career. I entered the classroom via an alternative certification program, and totally missed out on the vital experience of student teaching. It wasn't until I saw other teachers teach in my third year, as a coach, that I really grew dramatically as an educator myself. I wonder, though, if this is a transferrable experience. Can those lessons really be shared, or must they be felt/observed personally? Further - I wonder if this is a program that is actually open to folks who are struggling rather than just those who have had success. It's possible that those are the ones who need it the most, at least in terms of their own practice.

Photo of Cristy Pollak
Team

Yes, after 17 years of teaching I have almost enough sub days for year off and I have often asked my union reps if there is an option for a sabbatical year... but alas all I get is "OH nice idea .... no." I like your idea!

Photo of Christina Jenkins
Team

I'm so sad to hear this! I worked in New York City public schools for many years, and there are two sabbatical options there: 6 months after 7 years of service, and 12 months after 14. I believe teachers are paid at 60-70% of full salary. There's a sabbatical option in Berkeley, CA as well. I think there are more creative ways of imagining how that time is "earned" and "spent," but at least there's something. I didn't realize that the sabbatical is not a common feature in teachers' contracts. 

Photo of Kim Ribeiro
Team

I love this idea. I have a friend at San Francisco Unified who took a year long sabbatical and seems totally reinvigorated by it. I will check in with her on how structured her year of exploration was and if/how she was able to share what she did with her colleagues.

I also love the idea of a Leave of Presence!

Photo of Margaret Powers
Team

There are some wonderful ideas here! I would love to help brainstorm and work on it. The teachers I know who have gotten to take sabbaticals speak very highly of the experience and if that could be broken into an experience that could happen each day, I think it would change the teaching profession. I wonder what implementation would look like and if we can uncover (maybe through empathy interviews with various stakeholders?) some of the hurdles that prevent both year-long sabbaticals and daily "leave of presence" time from taking place?

Photo of Chris Good
Team

What if we looked at a way to build this into a typical day - everyday - instead of in one bulk single year session. This could be one way to offset the typical reasons for rejection when suggesting a sabbatical.

So lets imagine something like this...instead of a leave of absence...what if we requested a
a "Leave of Presence"

Time to get away each day - reflect on they what and why of what we are doing (maybe a little mindfulness) and focus on the needs of our students.

A chance to dive deep every day - on a topic of our own choosing (20% time) but only one topic.
This should still be a year long deep dive - where we truly come to terms with one big issue.

Perhaps you are paired with a mentor who is knowledgeable in that area - or a research partner who is discovering from the same place you are. This person could be found and assigned through some global on-line network (such as this one).

At the end of the year all the participants share their learning not only with the online forum, but in person with their local peer teachers.

the catch? Instead of preparing a reasearch paper or other academic document - they must instead employ some actionable change in their classroom.

That change and its effects are the purpose of this anyways.

Photo of Chris Good
Team

Eric, thanks for the invite. Looking forward to pulling some ideas together. I will start thinking and get some thoughts flowing soon!