Limited Time To Learn: How We Coach Busy Teachers


By Aaron Roberts and Shawna Parkinson

How did we ever get so busy? And how do we go about intentionally learning new things when we are so busy? It seems all adult learners experience a constant tension between productivity and learning new skills. According to a 2017 LinkedIn Learning Report, 92% of executives believe that adult learners in their workplace have some level of skills gap. 90% of that same group believe that strong professional learning experiences can close skill gaps in their employees. As finding time for learning is universally difficult in all workplaces, the report argues for learning experiences that fit in the “flow” of a normal work day.

This resonates strongly in our observations of the education field. Teachers are highly trained experts who are focused on the individual lives sitting in their classroom for the bulk of their work day. While teachers learn a lot about dealing with situations that arise in the classroom, there is little time to embed learning experiences around new techniques and research in that daily workflow. With that in mind, we challenged ourselves to create a small opening for new learning to occur.

Our Role

As Learning Experience Designers, our role involves designing and facilitating opportunities that will, ultimately, impact the learning of our students at Mason High School. The teachers with whom we work face the same challenges as most of America’s teachers: they report being busy and, at times, overloaded. This year, we have looked for ways that we can contribute to the upskilling of our staff, while being extremely mindful of the demands on their time. This demanded new instructional coaching approaches that go beyond traditional coaching cycles and large-scale professional development events.

Engaging Our Staff

This year, we decided to build a “menu of engagements” so that we could offer teachers a range of learning opportunities for our staff of 175 professional educators. Active, large-scale engagements were a clear part of our strategy. We created PD days, teacher pull-out workshops, classroom walkthroughs, and different small group and individual coaching cycles. Those strategies all had impact, without a doubt. They are the bread-and-butter of an instructional coach.

However, when it comes to aligning our entire staff in a single learning experience, nothing has compared to our strategic use of “passive engagement” techniques. The most powerful example of a passive engagement would be our monthly “Card Drops” left in each teacher’s mailbox.

The Monthly “Card Drop”

Our monthly Card Drops are one-page newsletters that summarize recent research or thoughts from the wider education world. We print and place them in the teacher’s mailboxes. Busy teachers report that they are not often open to reading long articles or new books, especially during the school year. The one-page Card Drop became a perfect way to brief teachers of current trends that may impact their teaching. These short newsletters often pull from multiple sources, but are aligned to a single topic at a time. They are a quick-hit of professional learning throughout the school year.

In this read, we often include:

  • A QR code and quote from an article of focus
  • A table that organizes points of interest
  • A list of reflection questions for teachers to consider
  • A brief summary of strategies for teachers to use in the classroom.

Below is a typical example of a Card Drop. We combined research from three different respected published materials to make an argument for increasing student discussions in all content areas. The Card Drop, eventually printed on brightly colored card stock, presents achievement statistics, offers reflective questions, and provides tangible protocols that a teacher can immediately use in the classroom. After leaving this in mailboxes, we heard hallway discussions about the information for quite some time.

Here are links to a few examples of our monthly Card Drops from this year. Please feel free to make a copy and use in your own school:

Student Talk & Achievement
What is “FLOW” in learning?
Essential Skills For The Future

The Benefits Of The Monthly Card Drop

As learning experience designers, we recognize that a teacher’s learning not only takes place within designated, professional learning workshops, but much of what a teacher learns happens within the informal moments of their day— such as in-between bells and at lunch. By offering a monthly Card Drop, we have found a way to plant a “seed” for conversation during the informal moments of a teacher’s workday. Since the information is designed with attention-grabbing quotes, tables and lists, teachers can quickly discern the most interesting information and walk away with a goal or strategy to keep in mind.

In a year in which teachers are still faced with the resonating effects of teaching during a pandemic, we consider exposing teachers to professional learning through these small-lift, researched-based Card Drops to be a right-sized fit for continuous, teacher-learning.



Aaron Roberts is a Learning Experience Designer in Mason, Ohio. His work in education is about being a creative catalyst. Aaron wants to help all learners – educators, administrators, and community members alike – realize their creative potential! Twitter: @RobertsLearns.


Shawna Parkinson is a Learning Experience Designer at Mason City Schools in Mason, Ohio. You may follow Shawna through Twitter: @ParkinsonLearns.



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