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Does The School Schedule Serve Teaching and Learning?

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Considerations about scheduling and faculty assignments for 2018 - 2019 are more than likely in the planning stages right now.  In states like New York, much remains tentative until the school district budget is voted on and passed, but the development of the budget requires planning conversations and a course of direction. Often, last year's schedule is simply rolled over with minor changes, most reflecting grade level and course enrollments. The schedule is framed by start and end times of the school day. And, very often, in more rural areas, those are impacted bus runs for elementary and secondary schools. In some cases, teacher contracts will have language that impacts schedules.

Schedules Control the Work of the School

Schedules are established and take on a life of their own. They determine things they ought not and get blamed for things as if they weren't created by those in schools. Course options for students are determined by schedules and teacher assignments can be dependent upon them.  Establishing the schedule is an unwelcome task and may be delegated to interns in many places. It is technology dependent and the opening day of every high school we know is one where the "schedule" captures much of the talk time among faculty and students and yes, even parents.

Reverse the Tradition of the Schedule's Control

Truth be told, the process is reversible.The schedule should be developed to support the curricular needs of the teaching and learning not the other way around. Teaching and learning should not be forced into a schedule's demands. Changes that are needed in today's school are possible when the schedule opens up, allows flexibility and is built based upon the design of the curriculum. This is not springtime work.  Changing schedules and teaching assignments should be the ongoing work of shifting the way teaching and learning takes place.  

Schedules cannot limit our thinking about learning design. In schools that have become invested in project based learning, for example, how time is used for learning is driven by the problems or projects presented to or by the students. In East Syracuse Minoa, a district in upstate New York of  approximately 3500 students is a fine example of what can happen. Once the district committed to a shifting vision for 21stcentury teaching and learning, the place of schedules changed. Rather than the parameters within which the day of learning occurred, they created possibility and that flexibility allowed new configurations to emerge. In fact, in the middle school, teachers designed the schedule so they could adapt it to the students needs for their learning.  Once one grade level did this and found success, the others followed. 

Districts are different. Schools are different. Schedules are different and communities are different.  Yet, the standard schedule in districts look eerily similar. That is because the learning, as different as school cultures and circumstances may be, is, itself, very similar.  The schedule cannot wag this dog of learning. So springtime/summer and schedule building will always be in lock step until the focus turns to how teaching and learning takes place.  

Make Room For Creativity, Innovation, and Differences

Today's school, like the world we live in, need to allow for creativity, for innovation and for individual differences and the best thinking about the century for which we are preparing students. Teacher preparation programs remain primarily subject based. They, like our schools, have added technology and nibbled around the edges of the traditional program. But, even if a new teacher has graduated from a new and robust program, they enter schools that are designed in the old ways. New teachers are outnumbered by the experienced colleagues who share both wisdom and constraints.  Similarly, for the school leaders, it is a Herculean challenge to ignite the community, teachers, and governing boards with the spark that invites a desire to change teaching and learning to better meet the needs of today's students.  It takes vision building, support, a commitment to professional development, and visiting other schools to see other models of new practices. It requires facilitating groups of people working together, listening, building relationships and consensus with a deep commitment to the process. It means asking questions and sharing concerns about what might be different, what might be new, and what might be left behind.  It takes breaking free from long held and familiar practices. In this, and in all things, leadership matters.

Schedules Can Be Difficult

Most schedules are an administrative task. Things like shared staff, music or physical education programs, or for those in the know... 'singletons' drive its shape. In districts where some students leave for half day programs offsite, this, too, determines when the core academics are taught. But when the needs of the curriculum are front and center and drive the design for learning, the schedule presents itself as a barrier. 

Schedule With Consideration for Conversations and Relationships

Begin with thinking about teaching and learning. Let this spring's schedule building be the beginning. Consider the conversations to be had and the relationships to be built in the service of a new design for learning. Be receptive to new questions and ideas. What is the vision for teaching and learning held by teachers, parents, and the community? Extend an invitation for those interested to learn about what is happening in other districts, not just those next door but those farther from home and from current thinking. It won't happen in one year but it might allow you to see newly as the lines of the schedule morph and become more flexible. It won't be easy but it is the right educational thing to do.

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools. Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or Email.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

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