Representing Time and Studying School Change: Lessons from a Collaborative Field Study1

Jon Wagner
School of Education
University of California, Davis

Published as pages 153-180 in
Patricia Gandara, Ed.
The Dimensions of Time and the Challenge of School Reform.
Buffalo, NY: SUNY. 2000.

In popular and folkloric discourse, we hear that time will tell, that it flies, passes, slows down, and measures; that it can be spent, or waits, that it can be stitched, and that it heals. But what do we hear that time does within processes of school change?

Some provisional answers to this question have emerged for me through a collaborative action research project called, "Learning from Restructuring" (LFR). During the first four years of this project, Sandra Murphy and I -- and several other colleagues from UC Davis and CSU Fresno -- worked with fifteen school teachers and administrators to construct detailed accounts of changes occurring in their schools. Within these accounts, school practitioners articulated a rich array of relationships between time and the social life of their schools, relationships that have implications both for studying school change and for guiding it.

The practitioner accounts of school change developed through the LFR project were informed by other project data, including transcribed interviews, field notes, official and unofficial school documents, and examples of student work. But the accounts themselves were fashioned largely by school members in multi-session oral presentations to other LFR participants. For their part, other LFR members did not just sit and listen. As interested peers, they interrupted change accounts presented by members of individual LFR schools to present confirming or contradictory evidence of their own, to ask for more detail, or to propose questions for further investigation -- all with exceptional good will.

LFR data collection activities did not focus explicitly on issues of time and school change. Our attention was on other matters: changing models and strategies of assessment, re-grouping practices within and across schools, the mobilization of teachers and community members around new school programs, and so on. But time was no stranger to these discussions, nor could much of what we said and heard make sense without shared understandings of time and school change.

Shared understandings of this sort are not easy to come by, as time can mean quite different things to different people -- or to the same people in different situations. Indeed, the anthropologist Edward Hall (1983) argues that contrasting time orientations are a key source of mis-communication and mis-understanding between members of different cultural groups.2 In a recent extension of Hall’s work, Andrew Hargreaves (1994) has argued that school change issues are shaped in part by conflicts between the different time orientations of teachers and administrators (1994 p 113):

What we are witnessing in much current educational reform and associated changes in teachers' work is such impositions of modernistic, administrative time perspectives, with all their practical implications, on the working lives of teachers. We are, in effect, witnessing the growing administrative colonization of teachers' time and space, where monochronic, technical-rational time is becoming hegemonic time.

My approach departs from the work of Hall and Hargreaves in two key respects. First, rather than proposing a conception of "time itself" to use in analyzing social life, I look at social life to see how individuals are examining and using different conceptions of time. Second, my analysis does not identify particular time orientations with different groups of people. Instead, I argue that the same individuals, when faced with different challenges, may use different conceptions of time and do so in different settings, in the same setting, or even -- as we shall see -- in the same sentence!3

The starting point for my analysis is the discourse that school practitioners use in discussing and describing changes occurring in their schools. Within this discourse, school teachers and administrators refer to different dimensions of time to give shape and substance to social activities, or to articulate and "index" the pace and structure of these activities with other activities, events, and institutions. Taken together, these references help practitioners specify and characterize the complex social relationships between ideas, actions, actors, institutions, and events that constitute school change.

My examination of these matters is guided by the following three questions: In what different ways is time represented in practitioner accounts of school change? What implications do these have for understanding school change? And, what can we learn from looking at these implications that might help us design more thoughtful strategies for studying and guiding school change? As a prelude to answering these questions, let me describe how the LFR project generated practitioner accounts of school change.

"Learning from Restructuring"

We began the Learning From Restructuring project in 1993 by working with four California high schools and two elementary schools. In1994 we added six more schools -- one elementary, two middle, and two high schools. Schools were identified as potential participants in LFR through informal networks of teachers, administrators, and by doctoral students from UC Davis and CSU Fresno -- some of whom were also teachers and administrators. We invited schools to participate through letters and phone exchanges with a lead teacher or site administrator. The only incentive or "resource" we offered schools was the opportunity to work with us and with members of other LFR schools to understand better the restructuring efforts with which they were involved. All schools invited chose to participate, but one of the initial six schools withdrew at the end of the first 18 months.

We selected LFR schools to represent the diversity of California’s public school communities. Six schools are largely urban, five suburban, and one is rural. Two high schools in the project are large, having over 2500 students each, but others are much smaller, and one middle school has less than 150 students. Some school communities are politically liberal or progressive, others quite conservative. A majority of the students at two schools are primarily Anglo, but students at the others are ethnically diverse, and several schools enroll a majority of "minority" students.

We deliberately recruited schools that varied in their relationship to school reform efforts in general and to California’s state-supported school restructuring initiative (SB 1274) in particular.4 Six LFR schools were successful in obtaining SB 1274 funds to support their restructuring programs. Four four others did not submit a 1274 proposal, and two submitted proposals that were not approved. Within these criteria, we also were able to recruit six schools that had teachers or administrators who were enrolled as graduate students in doctoral programs for which Murphy and I served as faculty members.5

From 1993 through 1995, we held five two-day LFR meetings, most of them organized around creating and reviewing school change accounts. Additional meetings were held in connection with interviews and field visits. We also crossed paths with LFR members at other meetings and conferences related to school change -- including several statewide 1274 symposia and a statewide teacher research conference hosted annually by the CRESS Center, UC Davis. Contacts and exchanges with LFR schools also occurred in connection with other research projects conducted by Murphy and by me and through ongoing communication with the graduate students who worked as teachers or administrators at six of the schools.

LFR was developed as a collaborative action research project. In the initial going, Murphy and I defined our role primarily in terms of preparing accounts and analyses from data contributed by school members, then sharing with those same school members the accounts and analyses we had prepared. We defined research questions in dialogue with our K-12 partners. We then tried to identify data sources linked closely to specific questions and to design strategies for collecting and analyzing data to answer the research questions. As background for examining questions and data sources, we also sought to develop case histories of each school. For this purpose we interviewed key administrators and teachers and collected official and unofficial documents related to restructuring and reform efforts at each site.6

As we worked with K-12 colleagues to develop research questions and "school change portfolios," we also heard from them about changes taking place in their schools. Over the project’s first twelve months, these accounts from LFR teachers and administrators increasingly captured our imagination and that of other project members. As we recognized their value to helping us understand school change, we moved these practitioner accounts towards the center of our study, and as we did, we also looked for ways to strengthen and extend them.

One result of this revised orientation was that LFR meetings became much more important than we had initially intended. We began to use these meetings to provide school members the time they needed to prepare detailed accounts of school change, to present these accounts, and to reflect upon them.

As resources for preparing accounts, we organized two-way interviews between members from different schools; made available copies of school documents, interview transcripts and field notes; and invited individuals to prepare written templates and outlines that could complement oral presentations of changes occurring at their school.

To encourage reflection, we encouraged project members from other schools to interrogate individual school change accounts as they were being presented. We also audio-taped and transcribed discussions at LFR meetings and shared some of the transcripts with other LFR members. In addition, we engaged the group as a whole in the analysis of LFR data sets. For example, at one LFR meeting, school members brought letters they had asked their students to write about changes underway at their schools; we spent a productive morning reading and examining these in conjunction with the change accounts of teachers and administrators. Finally, to develop trust and to stimulate retrospective evaluation among project members, we met with largely the same group of people over the course of several years.

Taken together, these features turned what we had proposed initially as "collaborative research" into an opportunity for inquiry-oriented "professional development" for participating teachers and administrators. As that transformation occurred, the project also generated research data that were richer by far than the "information" we sought initially from our "research subjects." This enriched data emerged primarily as a cumulative, multi-year series of school change accounts for each LFR school, within which different orientations towards time were very much evident.

Representing time in participant accounts of school change

Within change proposals and projects at LFR schools, time was represented explicitly in three different forms: as a resource for individuals and groups to design and implement reforms; as a template for reorganizing existing school activities; and as a measure for extending or contracting "normal" expectations for how long it takes to complete academic and administrative tasks. These three considerations all refer to a kind of rational-bureaucratic time instantiated in the social organization of institutions and embedded in the logic of school planning and administration.

However, in their detailed accounts of change actually underway, members of LFR schools referred frequently to "turning points," "crises," and "moments of special opportunity." These references don’t fit well within the rational-bureaucratic time orientations of reform proposals. They reflect instead the logic of living through change in schools and a sense of ongoing drama, uncertainty and conflict about the substance and process of reform.

In their school change accounts, members of LFR schools also referred frequently to time as a "gap" between different instances of social life in schools, or as a source of fundamental disjunction between past, present and future activities. Guiding social action over time presented school members with the challenge of overcoming these disjunctions, in response to which participants relied on several key "follow-up" strategies.

Contrasts between "proposal," "dramatic," and "disjunctive" time -- and between other representations of time in LFR accounts -- present challenges to the study of school change and to the design of planned change in schools. To suggest the scope of these challenges, let me illustrate these contrasts with some examples from LFR schools.


Time as a development resource in school change proposals

Part of the Accelerated school program was to have the school take stock and to bank time during the week. So that first year after our team came back from Accelerated schools, we met with our transportation people, because with 75% of our kids being bussed in, we're very tied to transportation. But we were able to work out with them a change in our schedule so we went to four days extended, and every Wednesday, shorten that day. So we built in time during the work day to start doing some planning.

"Banking" time provisions were noted by teachers from all but one of the twelve LFR schools. Another LFR teacher described how such arrangements worked at her high school:

We're banking our time and we're throwing it into a Wednesday schedule that will allow us to dismiss early. Kids will still stay on campus, hopefully not killing each other between the time we dismiss and the time the buses come. What's supposed to happen in that time is that these people can meet, we can meet without going beyond the school day . . . we bank like seven minutes a day or something.

In some quarters, changes of this sort in teachers conditions of employment might be resisted as violations of union contracts. However, all the LFR schools secured union support (or tolerance) for the specific "time banking" arrangements they proposed. A teacher from the same elementary school mentioned above gave this account:

And so we went to them [the teachers’ union] and said, "You know, we keep reading in our union newspapers that restructuring is a big deal and we're talking about doing that. What do we have to do to satisfy you folks?" And they said "Well, if 80% of your staff says they'll give up two minutes a day of their time to do this thinking..." -- and that's what it worked out to is we gave up two minutes; we all worked beyond contract anyway, so it was sort of a moot point with us --"then we'll support you." So we went back to the staff and said "Well, we can do this if 80% of us or more sign," and all of us signed.

As a supplement to "banking" provisions, some schools provided teachers with additional compensation. As a high school teacher reported:

Our House coordinators got compensated so I now... well last year I compensated myself and all my House teachers for their meeting times. This next year no one gets compensated but I get a release period. I would prefer to give people money for participating, but the district would prefer that I take the time because they want to make me do more work.

To supplement "banking time" as a resource for change efforts, all LFR schools have depended on substantial contributions of teachers’ personal time. A high school teacher provided the following example: "We went through 12 hours of training and site-based management. . . And we took actual decisions that we needed to make and walked them through the process and did it with the committees that needed to have them. And all this we did on our own time after school."

Contributions of personal time by some teachers characterized change efforts at all LFR schools. However, these contributions were irregular; teachers who made them one year might not make them the next. As a formerly active teacher noted about his reluctance to become more involved in a new program: "I was involved with other things. I was doing a Teacher Ed. program at ________ College, I was really busy, I needed time with my family and I saw this as a major, huge time commitment, which it was. So those were the kinds of reasons I was holding back."

As outlined in restructuring proposals and plans, the "extra" time that LFR schools created for teachers was regarded usually as a means for developing or designing new programs. The following account by an LFR high school teacher is an apt illustration: "The board made a commitment to give us five weeks out of the classroom, and they hired subs to go into our classes, long-term subs, so that we could spend... for five weeks we just went into our own office and worked out how we would design this program."

However, despite initial expectations that planning time was a means to design programs, school members frequently found such time valuable in its own right. This perspective is illustrated by another account from the same high school teacher noted immediately above:

One of the things that struck the four of us was the power of collaboration among teachers and having the time to sit down with other teachers and share feelings, ideas, experiences and talking about "What could we do to create really powerful experiences with kids?" We were overwhelmed by how good that experience was, how powerful it was. And it became real obvious how much that's lacking in the traditional system. And we tried to communicate that to other teachers. "You're going to love this. If you can have a half hour a day or a couple of hours a week to sit down with the other teachers you work with and talk and communicate and connect and solve problems and innovate, it's incredible. It'll change your whole attitude about your job."

As this comment illustrates, the intrinsic value to teachers of "extra" non-instructional time was tied closely to increased opportunities for collegiality and reflection. In several LFR schools, small amounts of in-contract or compensated "extra" time for teachers enriched relationships among teachers. These enriched relationships were then rewarding enough to elicit additional contributions of teachers’ personal time.

A parallel set of arrangements were designed at several schools to increase the amount of time that individual teachers spent with their students. At the elementary level, they involved multi-age classrooms in which students might stay with the same teacher for more than a year. In middle schools and high schools they took the form of "block scheduling," increased teacher and student involvement in long-term group projects, and the creation of "houses," "academies," and other "schools within the school."

LFR schools developed these arrangements to achieve three related goals: providing opportunities for students to become more engaged with teachers and with other students in their school; creating instructional blocks of time in which it would be easier for students to undertake long-term and open-ended inquiries; and deepening interpersonal relationships between students and teachers. As one teacher noted about the creation of these core programs, "When you have got a high school of 2500 students, you start figuring out that one of the big issues is personalization."

For each of these goals, the organization of time in school was seen alternatively as a problem or a solution: former arrangements made the school less productive, and new arrangements would enable it to be more productive. In a generally positive account of such "new arrangements," a high school teacher characterized this contrast as follows:

What we're finding is although we won't be able to cut our classes down, at least in 85 minutes you have time to go around and talk to all your kids. You have time to do something more than take roll, give instructions, and send them out the door. So there's some real value to that.

Arrangements that enabled students and teachers to develop deeper relationships inside school also could elicit additional contact between teachers and students outside of school. In terms of both student and teacher relationships, bureaucratic time was allocated as a resource for creating non-bureaucratic relationships. To the extent that this succeeded, the logic of reform proposals within LFR schools was at least partly sound.

"Scheduled time" and school planning

Changing the school schedule was an important vehicle at LFR schools for emphasizing different kinds of activities and relationships and for creating what appeared as "extra time" for teaching or for collaboration. LFR participants were quite deliberate and self-conscious in these efforts. Indeed as one teacher characterized the primary substance of her school’s restructuring initiative, "What we did was we moved people’s time." But they also found "school schedules" to be a useful artifact for understanding how their own restructuring efforts compared with those undertaken by other schools. As a high school teacher noted: "We wanted to change the schedule. Now what are we going to change it to? And so these people looked at seven jillion schedules, talked to a million different schools, talked to transportation, talked to the district, tried to figure out what they could do."

Judging from the example of LFR schools, the distribution of different "school schedules" was one of the must fully developed exchanges that occurred among restructuring schools. Schedules were passed around across district, regional and state lines. However, in designing scheduling changes, no LFR school chose to implement fully a schedule developed elsewhere. Rather, teachers and administrators took particular features of how another school organized time -- an extra period or block period arrangement, alternative day formats for longer class periods, "banking" time provisions, etc. -- and incorporated them into schedules tied closely to local contexts and traditions.

Indeed, some of the most pressing scheduling problems noted by LFR participants referred less to substantive school-wide change in how time was allocated or organized than to preferences of individual teachers. Some of these "personal" scheduling issues had important implications for curriculum and instruction. As one teacher noted:

And myself and my teaching partner, Renee, who is a lit teacher, who I have been teamed with ever since I came to [this high school], she and I had the luck of having our classes the first two years back to back. First and second period I had history kids, and she had the same kids in lit. So we started saying, "Oh, I know, let's go to the library… let's do all these things," and so we created this family of learners, of 60 kids. The following year, scheduling got screwed up, and we weren't able to that, and we really noticed the difference. And we said, "wait a minute, we have to find a way to force this to happen for us."

As this comment illustrates, changing schedules could create problems as well as solve them. That said, the notion of using schedules to "force" or "encourage" desired interaction was very much evident in all LFR schools. Here’s an illustration drawn from one of our LFR discussions:

Steve: We have this really significant meeting time every week, and we invited the whole staff including maintenance people, secretaries, all the teachers and administrators all broke up into different committees and tried to figure out how could we design, restructure and create our ideal school.

Nolan: So then people volunteered for the separate committees?

Steve: They had no choice. You're here for this hour and 45 minutes. Which committee are you going to be on?

Some scheduling issues also emerged in LFR schools in response to changes in school organization or classroom instruction. For example, in some LFR elementary schools, annualized grade advancement was replaced by some form of multi-age instruction. In most LFR high schools, provisions were made for teachers to "stay with" some of their students for more than a class period or more than a year. In other schools, student assessment schedules were altered as new assessment instruments and strategies were introduced-- e.g., portfolio reviews, standards-based performance rubrics, long-term "investigations" in mathematics and science, and so on.

By and large, the scheduling changes being developed in LFR schools were regarded positively by school members, but they were also quite modest. Class sessions within the day were lengthened or abbreviated, or the daily schedule varied during a given week, or additional staff development days were scheduled just after or just before the regular school year. However, none of the LFR schools departed fundamentally from prior multi-year expectations for student achievement. High school was still a four-year proposition organized around grade-level specific courses and course sequences. Elementary school arrangements involving multi-age classrooms did not alter the number of years students would spend at a school. The school day may have been extended by a period or so, but not much more than that. In recognition of how modest these changes were, one teacher lamented, "What happened about that vision of the school that was going to be open from 8 'til 8?"

The "dramatic time" of living through change

In contrast to the kind of rational-bureaucratic time characteristic of reform proposals and project planning, the accounts LFR members gave of how changes were actually occurring at their schools were organized around the drama of extraordinary events and episodes. The scope of these dramas was revealed to us in two different ways: First, LFR meetings provided lots of time for school members to describe changes at their sites in terms of key decision points, antecedents and consequences. Second, repeating some features of LFR meetings over the course of several years (i.e., similar questions about the same schools asked and answered by the same cast of characters) helped highlight continuity and change in participating schools.

As representations of "dramatic" time, the change accounts of LFR members illuminated series of related events, episodes, conflicts, and contrasts that were meaningful to school. Units of dramatic time were defined by key events, transitions, and other things that "happened," and they differed substantially from the undifferentiated months, minutes, and days that appeared in "proposal" time. Sequences in dramatic time differed from those in proposal time as well. Rather than a linear plot through the school day or year, with compartmentalized activities associated with a given point or block of time, activity sequences in dramatic time were "smeared" across clusters of related events.

Some changes described by LFR participants in "dramatic" time happened quickly but were modest in scope. For example, at one elementary school a meeting among teachers to discuss how to evaluate student work led to fundamentally different arrangements for "open house" and "parent conferences," arrangements that were implemented in the space of a few weeks. As a teacher from that school described this process: "Well, we left out of our time line, a big explosion that we had, a wonderful explosion, in a different way of doing parent conferences. They're not parent conferences, they're parent/student/teacher demonstration dialogues now."

Some schools went through far reaching changes in priorities and organization that occurred almost as precipitously. For example, one LFR elementary school had been developed over several years as an "experimental school" under the watchful and protective purview of the district superintendent. Cumulative changes at this school occurred over and above the casual resistance of the school’s principal, encouraged through a special reporting line between teachers at the school and the district superintendent.

At our first LFR meeting, this school appeared to have implemented and institutionalized several key restructuring elements, and that apperance held true through our next three meetings. However, during the second summer after the LFR project began -- a good eighteen months after the first meeting -- the superintendent was recalled. The school’s special status in the district was subsequently rescinded. The school principal, acting now with the support of the new superintendent, undid in six months time some innovative features of the that had taken several years to develop and implement -- e.g., lead teachers with mentoring and instructional responsibilities for each grade level, cross-grade instructional teams, authentic assessment strategies, etc. In response to these changes, several of the most active teacher-leaders left the school to take positions elsewhere, thereby completing a "turnaround" of the school in the space of a single year. As one LFR participant who left the school noted, "Fruitvalley Elementary, the Fruitvalley Elementary School we have been telling you about, is no more."

Some of the more substantial changes in LFR schools -- as described by school members in "dramatic time" -- had origins in outside events and circumstances, including changes at the state and district level that were occurring throughout the first few years of the LFR project. At the state level, an active and influential State Superintendent of Public Instruction was removed from office in mid-term. The state first adopted, then precipitously abandoned, a new and radically different assessment system, and California schools were left without a statewide assessment system for the first time in years. And a state budget crisis created extraordinary uncertainties and disruption for both teachers and districts. Compounding these changes at the state level was substantial administrative turnover in the schools. Only one LFR school district had the same superintendent in 1996 as in 1992, and ten of the twelve LFR schools changed principals during that same time.

In some cases, these changes created opportunities for schools to move ahead on thoughtful agendas for reform. However, they also revealed how change agendas set by individual schools were vulnerable to changes at higher institutional levels. An elementary school principal described impending district changes that would affect his school profoundly but fell completely outside the schools’ own restructuring proposal:

We're going through the middle of a reconfiguration process which was prompted by a seismic issue at a number of our sites. Our school has been considered to be seismically unsafe, therefore in the next couple of years we'll have our building completely torn down and rebuilt. But as part of that, the superintendent decided, "Well, since we're going to have to rebuild this anyway, let's go for [grade level and zone] reconfiguration as well. And since the school district needs to be restructured in some way, let's do it all at the same time while the schools are being rebuilt.

In many LFR school change accounts, precipitous change within a school was tied to issues that crossed boundaries between the school and its district or community. For example, at one LFR high school, teacher energies that had peaked around the process of developing an ambitious restructuring proposal for state funding dissipated when the proposal was unsuccessful. A school member noted that, in the wake of this disappointment, "the staff pretty much crashed as far as any type of vision of where we're going." For months after, reports from this school confirmed the impression that restructuring initiatives and planned change were dead. As an LFR teacher described it:

We kept having the Friday meetings, but the Friday meetings instead of having any direction, had no talk of restructuring except some discussion of how we need to integrate curriculum. . . . basically, it was just long staff meetings and we got these long reports about who's done anything in sports, this team did that and this team did that. It was really a waste of time. It was like a year off as far as any kind of progress.

However, a widely publicized incident at a high school dance created a school-community crisis that led in a matter of weeks to an invigorated restructuring effort and a focused agenda for school change. A teacher from the school gave the following account at an LFR meeting:

Most of you have probably heard about the publicity our school got, not only nationwide, we were on CNN and it was in the London Times. It got on the news wires and just went everywhere. We had a Halloween party for the seniors and it was on campus in the gym and our principal and assistant principal were there. Three students came up and two of them -- it was a group -- and two of them on the outside were dressed as Klu Klux Klan, and the guy in the middle was a white kid with black face and a noose around his neck. And the noose was this long and hanging from his neck.

The assistant principal is the one who tried to talk them out of it, said it was inappropriate, and they said "Hey, are you going to kick us out of here?" Essentially challenged him. And he said "Well, if you take the hoods off, and the kid in the middle has to take the noose off his neck, then I'll let you in." Compromise So he let them in. And they won a contest for most popular outfits, costumes.

Okay. So the senior class, or the portion of the senior class that was there, felt like this was worthy of electing them, and when they took the picture to receive this award, the picture for the yearbook, they were allowed to put the hoods and noose back on.

And if you don't know, in our community there is an active Klan. They have paraded in outfits down main street of the town and there are minority people who have had rocks thrown through windows with KKK written on the rocks and people have been threatened. So it's not just a reference to the past. For the minority people in our community it's a very real threat, and there are people who were not angry, but very upset because it seems like the school was condoning this image of a lynching. . . .

That has sort of become an opportunity for change, in a sense. I was really discouraged last summer, we didn't get our grant, and it seemed like we hit a brick wall, the staff went back to normal. So now this crisis hits, and all of a sudden we have a community group, we have 60 people who showed up at a meeting, and they're demanding that the school get it back together. And we've got to have some kind of conflict resolution program. We have to have some kind of anti-bias program. We have to change, transform our curriculum. We have to transform our discipline system. . . There's a new student group that's formed. And the student group is a pretty radical group of kids and it's the first time there's ever been a radical group of kids active on our campus, so in that sense I'm more optimistic than I was last summer that maybe some things are going to happen.

Observations and subsequent accounts confirmed that the crisis did lead to changes both in the tenets and substance of the school. A school planning council was put in place that was largely teacher led and included the principal as one of its members. Though created initially to respond to the post-Halloween crisis, this group quickly moved to address other school issues, including curriculum integration and block scheduling. A new citizenship participation class with a strong action research component was created for all freshmen, and an extensive program of community service was instituted as an integral feature of student participation in the school.

The detailed, multi-year accounts by school members of how changes actually occurred in their schools stand in stark contrast to the change process represented in restructuring proposals and plans, and a key component of this contrast emerges from fundamentally different orientations towards time: In proposals and plans, time is a fungible resource that can be managed and organized according to agreed upon increments and units -- 7 minutes banked from a day, or an 85 minute period instead of 47 minutes, or a weekly school planning meeting. In the lived experience of change in their schools, time is organized as well, not by administrators or planners, but extraordinary and somewhat unanticipated events, unevenly distributed over the days, weeks, months or years. Decisions are made quickly in the heat of a crisis, despite months of weekly meetings in which no decision could be reached. Groups mobilize or dissolve precipitously around issues that have been issues for decades. Policies that no one had considered for years are created or repealed in a flurry of urgent activity. While time marches on evenly through proposals and plans for how change is supposed to occur in schools, it lurches forward in fits and spurts within practitioner accounts of how change actually happens.

"Disjunctive" time and "follow-up"

The challenge of pursuing reforms "over time" was a third perspective on time that shaped LFR change accounts. This perspective reflects the more general challenge of sustaining any kind of coherent social life.8 As Nespor (1994 p. 6) frames the issue: "How is activity in one setting (such as a classroom) related to activities in settings distant in space and time (other classrooms or workplaces)? All of our notions of learning, development, teaching, curriculum and reproduction can be read as answers to this question."

Observations of the LFR project encourage me to add "notions of planned school change" to Nespor’s list. Indeed, LFR school change accounts were replete with questions about how connections between past and future reform initiatives could be supported over time. How could information presented or decisions made at one point in a school’s history be called upon at other points? How could discussions stimulate cumulative planning and development? And how could teachers know whether or not the changes they made were effective in preparing students for the future?

As one illustration, consider the following exchange between Kathy, an elementary school teacher and other LFR participants. Kathy, begins by commenting on what she is learning about high school from participating in the LFR project:

Kathy: Well, this [the LFR project] is one way for us to get across the bridge. I don't want to give that up. I want to come across with the kids. I don't know what -- my first, first-graders are ninth graders right now. And I only know what's happened to a couple.

Jon: That's a pretty powerful thought .

Kathy: I want to know what happens to them and right now there's very limited mechanisms for me to know what happens to the kids that I had.

Irene: When they come back and start teaching with you, you'll know.

Bob: You'll know it's time, that's what you'll know. And when they become your deputy principal and your learning director you'll know.

Irene: You'll know it's too late.

Kathy’s concern builds into her elementary school classroom an awareness of time separations between her students and their futures and the implications of that separation for her own work as a teacher. Later in the same discussion, she comments:

What I got to do [through the LFR project] as an elementary school teacher was get a clearer picture of what's ahead for my students. But I really felt like there is this huge grand canyon and the only people who go across it are the kids. . . . it was a real eye-opener to me as far as this grand canyon. The kids pass through but somehow we as professionals stumble.

The time-frame of this particular "canyon" involves a disjuncture of several years between Kathy’s work and evidence about its effectiveness, but LFR participants also referred to similar "gaps" that were only weeks or months in duration, and some that involved a matter of days or hours.9 Here’s how one LFR teacher described trying to get a school principal to bridge planning activities over a period of a few days.

I was saying "Well, what's the next step? Are we going to work with these ideas that we've brainstormed and come to some decisions and maybe prioritize and talk about actions?" And he said "Well, if there's a group of teachers that want to volunteer to meet after school and do something with this, that's fine." But there was no plan. And I went in and talked to him and I said "This isn't how you do things. You need to have some follow-up." And he didn't get it. . . . He just didn't understand it. So then I said "How about if we call the leadership team together and see if the leadership team can come up with a way to follow up?" And he said okay. I mean it was logical. He couldn't really deny it, that that's an appropriate thing to do. . . . It hadn't occurred to him to call the leadership team together, but now that it was being suggested, he didn't see anything wrong with it. So the leadership team picked up right away and he was just silent.

In this and many other examples, LFR affirmed the need for "follow-up." "Follow-up" involved deliberate efforts to build social connections between moments past, present and future, and LFR schools exhibited three primary vehicles for doing this: preparing oral and written accounts of past or proposed activities; designing routines and rules to replicate key settings and contexts at different points in time (e.g., regular meetings); and building social networks through which individuals linked multiple settings and periods of time.

All of these vehicles were valued, but also problematic. For example, as illustrated by international distribution of a written account of the Halloween party, "follow-up" was not something that could be easily controlled. Follow-up responsibilities also gave some individuals the power and opportunity to represent or mis-represent the work of others. An LFR high school teacher shared her concerns about this as follows:

Our note taking [at restructuring meetings] was pretty bad, and I don't even know if we've gone to a tape recorder yet. We still have these sort of interesting secretarial-type people taking notes, and often I read the minutes and I have to come back and I say "What? We didn't do that, or we didn't say that or that's not really true." And nobody's altered the record, it's just that they're clueless in terms of what's going on because they're not connected or they're not transcribing.

The same teacher was much less concerned about the power of mis-representation when individuals entrusted with representational tasks were highly engaged in the social networks they were expected to represent.

We have a billion grant writers, like four–three to four grant writers; they write all these pieces, they bring them back to our 1274 committee, we take it out to our other committees, you know, the sort of… committees, come back, suggest changes. Finally, people drop by the wayside: "I'm never going to write this!" Peoples’ feelings are sort of hurt, then we apologize. . . And finally one person says, "Okay, I'm writing it." And it's written, we edit it, we go out to dinner, and it's over, we turn it in.

In some cases these representational challenges were tied to the ideal of getting students over time to "understand" the school they attended -- by which most people meant understand what adults in that school wanted them to do -- and documents were created for just that purpose. However, in other cases, representational trajectories and documents went in both directions:

Irene: So yeah, we're teaching and we're taking stuff back to kids, we're taking stuff back to meetings. Our students... Renee and I gave our students all the change literature we could find and we said "You have $500,000, what would you do to change your school?" And they wrote essays about the kinds of changes they would make, they looked at schedules, they looked at... you know, what they talked about was they wanted more teacher-student connections, they wanted more student-student connections, they wanted more freedom in terms of when they went to school, dot dot dot. It was interesting stuff, and we shared that with the committee.

Kathy: Did any of that actually end up incorporated? Any of the student input?

Nolan: What's happening to all this stuff?

Irene: It's being written up and it's in somebody's file somewhere. Hopefully somebody has an extra copy because I keep throwing mine away. No, that kind of stuff has gone into other programs.

References by LFR members to using oral and written accounts to link activity over time were complemented by references to using routines and rules for much the same purpose. Regular staff meetings arranged through "banking" time in LFR schools were valued by many LFR members as opportunities to guide and develop school programs over time. A third strategy noted by LFR members for linking activities over time involved interpersonal networks. In the following passage, a high school teacher responds to a question about how this kind of representation occurred:

Nolan: So one person was basically translating and organizing everything that...

Irene: Right, and she kept coming back and saying "Is this what you want me to say? Is this what you guys intended?" We turned it in and we made it to the interviews. Our experience with the interview was the same thing. We had been living in each other's pockets. First of all, most of us had been at the school for three years so we'd been living in each other's pockets at all of those meetings because we were all on the same committees, or at least two of them. Everybody was on two committees.

The strategies used by members of LFR schools to support continuous collective action across separations in time and space were not ones that could be pursued arbitrarily or across the board. Instead, effective strategies for bridging gaps in time linked particular representations with individual actors and social settings. Different "follow-up" efforts were regarded as more or less effective depending on the school change contexts to which they were applied. And -- as described in the following section -- school change contexts themselves were defined in part by multiple dimensions of time.

Indexing activities to time in school change accounts

LFR school members spoke explicitly about conceptions of bureaucratic and dramatic time. They were also clear that "follow-up" was necessary to move change efforts forward over gaps in time. However, these orientations are only a few of the many ways in which issues of time were represented in their accounts of school change. Consider the following transcription of an oral presentation from an LFR meetings. The speaker, a high school teacher, is describing the circumstance surrounding a shift in the change orientation and planning priorities of several members of his school:

The committee who had done the planning, they took responsibility of running those weekly meetings. They formed what became the restructuring committee. Those people, Clarice Frank was the leader, she is a teacher, she and another group of teachers -- at that point I still wasn't involved, early last school year -- they organized these meetings. They were trying to get more and more teachers to buy in and get groups to formulate a plan that could end up being the proposal that would relate to our community and school and kids, etc. About half way through the year, December, there was a blue print of the plan, there was a core idea of the plan that would involve taking 80 kids and 4 teachers and doing a pilot.

Table 1



The committee who had done the

planning. They took

responsibility of running those

weekly meetings. They formed

what became the restructuring

committee. Those people, Clarice

Frank was the leader, she is a

teacher, she and another group of

teachers, at that point I still

wasn't involved- early last schoo

l year- they organized these

meetings. They were trying to get

more and more teachers to buy in

and get groups to formulate a

plan that could end up being the

proposal that would relate to our

community and school and kids

etc. About half way through the

year, December, there was a blue

print of the plan, there was a core

idea of the plan that would

involve taking 80 kids and 4

teachers and doing a pilot.

had done = refers to sequence, implicit and diffuse past

weekly = notes frequency of activity over time, specifies "normal" unit of duration

became = implies development and evolution over time

is = implicit present, implies continuity over time, stability of identity as a teacher

at that point = locates personal agency in larger event history

still wasn't = implies continuity with past, but intimates impending change in status

early last school year = locates activities within institutional school calendar

meetings = "normal" time-activity unit involving synchronous communication

were trying = persistence of effort over time (contrast to "tried")

plan = artifact for organizing activities over time

could end up being = development leading to changed status in the future

half way through the year = experiential time linked loosely to school calendar

December = location on Gregorian calendar

was . . was = parallel construction implies synchronicity of referents

pilot = implies sequence, subordinates one activity (pilot) to next activity in sequence.


Embedded in this relatively brief passage (a transcript of the 90 minute section of the meeting in which this comment was made is about 30 pages long) are numerous references to different conceptions of time. As illustrated in Table 1, these references can be isolated somewhat from each other, but they cut across multiple dimensions of time articulated by Hall (1983), Hargreaves (1994) and others. References of this sort confirm that time does not appear as a unitary feature within the school change process but as a cluster of dimensions -- contested and confounded, variously neglected and attended to -- that shape and are shaped by social life of any sort, including the social life of changing schools.

Among the many dimensions of time referenced within practitioner accounts are historicity, duration, sequence, ephemera and immanence, frequency, pacing, scheduling, and so on, each of which can be differentiated further according different time scales, reference points and units of analysis or measurement. For example, within "proposal time" alone we can think of duration in terms of "six months of meetings," "meeting from September to March," "a dozen meetings of two hours each," or "24 hours of meeting time." Even when these different representations of duration are consistent with each other, they do not mean the same thing. Six months of meetings might not do the trick unless they were held September to March, involved twelve separate meetings of two hours each, and 24 hours of total meeting time. Similarly, 24 hours of meeting time might or might not be better spent in six months than in three or twelve or forty.

Different features of dramatic time can also be used to characterize duration. For example, meetings might last until, "we all got too tired to disagree," "someone finally got a bright idea," "Jackie finally left," "everyone had a chance to speak," "we had read everything there was to read," "we finally got the superintendent’s okay," "the test data arrived," "we got the proposal out the door," and so on. Duration also can be characterized quite differently in terms of overcoming gaps in time. Meetings might continue until, "we finally had a plan we could distribute to others for comment," "we created a new committee that could take over the functions of this group," "we selected a representative to take this proposal to the board," "we scheduled another meeting," and so on. What distinguishes these different representations of time from each other -- within and across proposal time, dramatic time and disjunctive time -- are the different configurations of social activity they entail.

Linking representations of time to social activity takes other forms as well. In some change accounts by LFR participants, time is used as a place-holder for other activities, "work," for example, or "learning," "communication," or "planning" (e.g., we didn’t have enough "time" to reach consensus as a surrogate for we did not "meet together long enough" to reach consensus). As a valued "commodity," time is also used in these accounts to indicate the significance of different program components, themes or activities -- a version of what Hargreaves (1994) calls "socio-political time". A teacher might note that, "it was clear they didn’t care about that because of how little time they gave for it." Or, we noted that in reform proposals from LFR schools, teachers were more likely to be allocated "preparation" or "planning" time than they were "reflection," "research" or "de-briefing" time. Some activities in LFR accounts or proposals were categorized explicitly on the basis of how long they took: meetings were shorter than retreats, but longer than conversations; assignments were shorter than lessons, and lessons shorter than units.

In trying to account for the process of change in schools, LFR school members referred routinely to these and other kinds of time as an "index" for specifying relationships between activities, actors, ideas and events. In these accounts, time does not provide a unitary axis on which to plot school change activities or a uni-dimensional resource to be allocated among them. Rather, different conceptions of time are used together to construct detailed and precise accounts of the school change process.

To the extent that references to time represent relationships between school change activities, actors, events, and so on, they also reflect implicit theories about school change itself. Why is it important that meetings occur over six months? Why is it important that they be two hours each? Why do they have to occur from September to March? Inviting school members to answer questions such as these can help make explicit the social theory that is implicit in their accounts of school change. As we struggled to do just that in the LFR project, we learned that practitioner theories of school change, even when they are implicit, can be extremely precise and thoughtful.


Enriching school change research and practice

I have tried to illustrate some of the ways in which school teachers and administrators use different conceptions of time in proposing and accounting for changes occurring in their schools. These illustrations also suggest that representations of time are important to practitioners in supporting school change over time and in addressing the challenges of "follow-up," however that might be defined.

These illustrations help frame two challenges for those interested in studying or guiding school change: First, the challenge of preparing representations that are adequate to account for the school change phenomena we want to examine or guide -- in Nespor’s words (1994 p. 7) accounts that can make "‘absent’ spaces ‘present’ in textual form." Second the challenge of distributing these representations among settings in which power can be exercised to change the schools and engaging individuals in those settings to use these representations wisely.

Within the LFR project we stumbled over these challenges in almost every thing we did. However, from that experience we also learned something about how to enrich the quality and utility of our investigations of school change. Some of that learning can be stated in terms of the following recommendations and cautions:

Resist using time as place-holder for social activity

Time and time again, we came across references -- in practitioner accounts and in our own research discourse -- in which time itself was characterized as a social activity. Invariably, these references presented time as a surrogate for a distinctive social activity that took place over time. When left unchallenged, references of this sort keep us from understanding or describing social life with detail and precision. They also keep us from noticing the implicit social theories that both shape and are shaped by descriptions of this sort.

As a special case of this recommendation, we caution against using "official" or "institutional" time-keeping as the primary template for investigating or describing school change. Certainly, scheduled time matters in school, and it also matters in finding ways to support school change. All LFR schools gave thoughtful attention to scheduling and managing time to support school change. However, attending to "dramatic" time and "disjunctive" time may be equally important. And, according to LFR members, while revised school time-tables might make some things possible, that alone did make them happen.

Use theory to time data collection

Related closely to the recommendation above is the need to collect data from schools according to the kinds of time in which change actually occurs, which may or may not correspond to school calendars or school change proposals and plans. Part of the challenge here is the difficulty of conducting longitudinal studies of any sort. However, even within longitudinal studies, data collection intervals can be too short or too long to capture phenomena we are interested in.

For example, we can certainly learn something about school change from data collected at the end of each school year or at the end of different policy implementation phases. But this will not generate much information about what is happening during each year, or between implementation phases, for which reason some researchers have tried to complement annual surveys or interviews with on-going observation -- see Smylie, Lazarus & Brownles-Conyets (1996) for a thoughtful recent example.

These concerns about the timing of data collection are closely related to what Strauss (1987) refers to as "theoretical sampling." If our theoretical perspective on school change treats the eveness and continuity of social life as unproblematic, it might make sense to collect data continuously, at random, or at regularly timed intervals. However, if our theory regards continuous social life as problematic, we need to identify key turning points and disjunctions and subject them to close examination, regardless of where they fit within institutional or annual calendars.

Preserve time-indexing in practitioner accounts of school change

There are many features of change we can examine without attending to practitioner accounts. However to understand school change phenomena we need to know how practitioners regard change processes in their own schools. Ideally, research would be informed by the most credible and detailed practitioner accounts that we can find, identify, enable, and help others construct.

Practitioner accounts of the sort elicited by the LFR project reflect extraordinary detail and precision in the temporal indexing of activities, events, actors and the confluence of dramatic and bureaucratic time. We need to attend to this detail to do good research -- and attend to more of it than can be found in the brief passages cited here. Detail of this sort is also valuable, and in some cases necessary, if we want our analyses to make sense to school practitioners within local networks of power and knowledge that shape planned change in individual schools and districts. And yet, data analysis and reporting conventions make preserving this kind of detail throughout the research process extremely problematic.

For example, converting practitioner accounts to correlations among school change variables has its attractions within what some call "normal science"(Argyris, Putman & Smith, 1985). However, changing, reducing or deleting practitioner representations of time can substantially alter the substance of a school change account. When I called explicit attention to time considerations embedded in a transcript presented earlier -- through the annotations and underlined words in Table 1 -- I interrupted the narrative stance, the voice, and the intelligence of the original speaker. This fragmented and undermined the teacher’s account from which the transcript was derived, and it also changed what that account was apparently about. Dropping these references completely in favor of "timeless’ propositions about different factors contributing to school change would represent an even more fundamental change in theory (Becker, 1992).

In some cases changes of this sort may be warranted. However, in other cases, temporal detail is reduced primarily to construct accounts that are easier to distribute among other researchers (Nespor & Barylske, 1991), and this can occur at the cost of theories that might make more sense. When we lose precision in how practitioners index activities to each other over time, we also lose the theoretical perspective embedded within that precision by school practitioners themselves. In moving from long stories to short ones, and to cases or causes we may gain universality. But we may also lose the schools and the experience and theorizing of those who work in them.

To balance fidelity to practitioners’ accounts with transportability among researchers and other colleagues, we explored within the LFR project a variety of strategies for extending data analysis activities into research reporting itself. Along those lines, we structured some research reports as invitations to LFR members and other colleagues to examine detailed practitioner accounts and explore with us their implications for understanding or guiding school change.

Consider multiple media and formats for collecting and reporting data

Efforts to record and preserve detail in practitioner change accounts run up against the constraints of conventional reporting formats and media. These limit the kinds of data that can be represented in a research report. As one example, instead of presenting practitioner accounts of school change, I have presented here the results of my examination of how practitioners represent time in such accounts.

Formats and media also constrain relationships between theorizing and data representation, and, as a result, the kind of theorizing we do, or at least the kind of theorizing we do when we are doing educational research. As Becker notes from his examination of "causes, conjunctions, stories, and images" different kinds of reports support different kinds of theorizing (1992 p 213) :

Professional social scientists typically use only a few of the very large number of possible ways of representing social science results, those few being part of "packages" of theories, methods, types of data, and styles of analysis and representation which have been conventionalized in some working group. Like other agreed-on parts of a scientific package, such conventions of representation facilitate sociological work. But they also hamper it because, while they make communication of some results easy and efficient, they make communication of other kinds of results difficult or impossible.

Within the LFR project, we have worked primarily with paper copies of written text, but we have used a variety of reporting formats, as noted above. In addition, we are currently examining how extending data analysis opportunities to multiple audiences might be enriched by video tape, multi-media and hypertext.10

Index research to local change through practitioner networks

One intriguing outcome of engaging practitioners in some LFR data analysis activities has been that research reports become "events" that are indexed by practitioners to local change initiatives. Written texts are still an essential part of this process. However, practitioners participating in data analysis sessions have transcribed LFR research accounts into school activities and events. Accounts of these activities and events have been subsequently distributed within local networks in which individuals shape and implement school reforms.

For conventional research reports to inform school decision-making, they must be carried "piggy -back" on time-indexed accounts and local representations of school members active in that setting. This same requirement applies to the kinds of research reporting supported through the LFR project. However, engaging members of LFR schools in a professional network involving researchers and members of other schools has made that task easier. As events of the LFR network became real to participating school members, the substance of LFR investigations also became real in members’ reports about that network to their colleagues. Conversely, when LFR activities became too infrequent or attenuated, the LFR network and the substance of our investigations -- however real they might be to university researchers involved with the project -- faded away for our practitioner colleagues.

In linking educational research to practice, these observations underline the value of preparing reports as activities and events that involve networks of practitioners -- or, if they do not already exist, helping to build networks of that sort. Along these lines, researchers studying school change can enrich their own work and also enrich practitioner accounts by bringing together teachers and administrators from different schools to examine school change phenomena. Achieving these dual ideals also can be facilitated through joint efforts by practitioners and researchers to collect and archive evidence about how change is occurring in schools, a process made more feasible by the increasingly routine use of electronic media in support of school-site communication, planning and reporting.

These recommendations will not resolve fundamental dilemmas of representing social life, nor will they institute a new paradigm for connecting school change research to practice. However, they could enrich the knowledge that researchers and practitioners develop and are enabled to report about time and school change. That could have some payoff within individual schools and within networks involving other schools and researchers. All this would take time, of course -- and attention to all kinds of time -- but then again, what doesn’t?



This report is based on data generated through the "Learning From Restructuring" (LFR) project supported by funds from the University of California Educational Research Center, Fresno. I shared LFR leadership with Professor Sandra Murphy, and the two of us worked closely in the early stages of the project with Professors Rosemary Papalewis and Theresa Perez from California State University, Fresno. I value greatly the assistance of these and other colleagues, including the elementary and secondary school teachers and administrators who joined us in the LFR project -- and whose words appear in bits and pieces within this report. Our LFR work was facilitated by Marcia Goodman and Rose Bachini from the CRESS Center at UC Davis and by three expert and thoughtful research assistants: Rich Hansen, Janet Hecsh, and Ting Sun. My work through the LFR project also was enriched by ongoing discussions with Judith Warren Little and her colleagues at UC Berkeley who have been evaluating California’s SB 1274 school restructuring initiative.

Hall comments as follows about the conflict between "monochromic" time and "polychronic" time : "Complex societies organize time in at least two different ways: events scheduled as separate items -- one thing at a time -- . . or . . involvement in several things at once. The two systems are logically and empirically quite distinct. Like oil and water, they don’t mix. "

Hargreaves associates Hall’s conception of "monochronic time" with the perspective of administrators and "polychronic time" with teachers. However, data generated through the LFR project reveal that both teachers and administrators referred to monochronic time in describing the challenges of managing or supervising others, and both referred to polychronic time in articulating their resistance to being managed or supervised. Thus, within hierarchical communication between teachers and administrators, teachers might appear to administrators as polychronic miscreants and administrators to teachers as monochronic tyrants. However, in hierarchical exchanges with students, teachers can become the monochronic tyrants, just as administrators can wax polychronic in exchanges with supervisors of their own.

For a more systematic and extremely well-conceived examination of how schools have participated in this state-wide initiative see Little

These two programs are: the Ph.D. program in Education at UC Davis and an Ed.D. program offered jointly by faculty from UC Davis and other University of California campuses and faculty from California State University, Fresno.

In the early stages of the project, we conducted site interviews of administrators and teacher leaders who had been involved in preparing SB 1274 proposals and other reform documents. In these interviews we asked about the proposal preparation process, change initiatives underway at the school, the goals of restructuring efforts, anticipated problems and opportunities, and expectations for implementing change over time. In later stages of the project, we pursued these same questions in LFR meetings themselves.

Little provides a extended and thoughtful analysis of similar arrangements among a large sample of California schools, all of which received SB 1274 grants.

The "disjunctive" dimension is not mentioned by Hall in his examination of time. This is curious because by defining monochronic time as "one thing at a time," and polychronic as "many things at once," Hall invites us to speculate about other forms of this equation: "one thing at many times," for example, or "many things at many times." Indeed, the notion that "one thing" -- e.g., a particular social relationship, a process of development or growth, a person’s identity, an institutions, etc. -- can occur at many different times is an essential feature of organized social life, and a notion worth investigating further.

Had we probed about this in more detail, I am confident that the same problematics of "follow-up" could be identified between shifting micro-contexts of an individual meeting or conversation -- such as those examined by Erickson and Shultz in their video-tape analysis of classroom lessons.

New opportunities are presented by this technology for representing both researcher and practitioner accounts within the same "document" as hypertext-linked files. An excellent example is an electronic publication by Glass . As the abstract notes:

Vol. 5 No. 1 is a uniquely reported multi-site qualitative study. Data on which the study is based are drawn from 37 interviews. The interpretive framework drawn from these interviews is illustrated by selected quotations. Each quotation is hyperlinked to its original location in the interview from which it was drawn. The full text of all interviews is available to any reader to be downloaded.


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