How can teachers meet the needs of all students? It may seem like a daunting task.Teachers really want to help students. But, kids all have unique interests as well as socio-emotional and academic needs.
In this post we’ll look at how a school that functions as a real PLC, and incorporates regular flex time, can help all students master learning essentials. First off, let’s talk about flex periods.
A flex period, also referred to as a flex block, activity period, WIN time, advisory (and more), is something many schools have added or are thinking about adding to their school schedule. Why? Flex periods allow teachers to give students time, for extra help, remediation, intervention, enrichment, genius hour, etc.
Essentially, a flex period is a built-in chunk of time that can be used to suit whatever a school, or student’s, specific needs are.
Flex periods can be especially helpful when trying to meet students’ academic, and social-emotional needs. All students need support in one way or another. Relying on before or after school support will leave many kids behind.
For students who take the bus, or those with busy schedules, they often can’t take advantage of these times to get what they need. And for teachers who are already overloaded with work, spending even more time before or after school can be overwhelming.
A flex period takes place during the school day, so it reduces or even completely eliminates the need for before or after school support sessions.
But for flex periods to be effective, planning is required. If the purpose is to meet student needs, first educators need to be aware of what those needs are. This is where a PLC comes in.
PLC stands for Professional Learning Community, and it describes a process that a school community goes through to ensure they are supporting their learners.
For a flex period to really be effective, a PLC is the place to start. According to Solution Tree, the PLC process means that every staff member in the school is guided by 5 actions.
- What is it we want our students to know and be able to do?
- How will we know if each student has learned it?
- How will we respond when some students do not learn it?
- How will we extend the learning for students who have demonstrated
When every staff member in a school asks themselves these questions, and when teams meet and their actions are guided by these, they naturally lead into knowing what students need, and figuring out how to meet those needs.
In this post we’ll break down just three ways a flex period really comes alive and works for the good of students, when it works alongside a PLC.
1. Identify student needs
This is step one, and it starts with your PLC. You won’t know how to help students unless you know what they need, and you won’t know what they need until you identify those needs.
That first critical question of a PLC is ‘What is it we want our students to know and be able to do?’ Identify what the expectations are for students, and what they need to learn. Added to this is social-emotional learning as well — how can you help students develop the skills they need socially to get along with others, and to cope with challenges in their life?
The second question of the PLC process is ‘How will we know if each student has learned it?’ If you have expectations for students and what you want them to learn, there has to be a way to identify whether or not they have learned it. How will learning be measured?
When working to figure out what you want students to learn, and figuring out how to measure that, you will probably become aware that not all students in your school are meeting those expectations. Some students may be, some may even be exceeding them, but others are likely struggling. Try to find out the reason why.
And identifying student needs is far more than just identifying what you want them to learn. Students in your school likely have needs that are different than students in another school. And students have unique needs individually.
Identifying these needs means looking at the data, but it also means knowing your students, your school, and your community. What have you and your fellow educators observed? The best way to know what students need is to talk to them, and ask them.
2. Plan how you will respond to student needs
This ties in to questions three and four of a PLC. How will you respond when students learn, don’t learn, or exceed expectations? Now that you know what your students need, it’s time for your teams to plan out how you will respond. It can be helpful for your PLC teams to set goals related to these needs, especially when it comes to providing targeted support for different groups of students.
‘Student needs’ are a pretty broad topic to consider. There are the students that, as a whole, make up your school and community. Likely, as a group, there are specific needs unique to them, as as we mentioned earlier, students need to be considered as individuals as well. This is one reason why a PLC is so valuable.
Within a PLC, there are teams tasked with helping groups of students. Teams can be organized by department or grade level, whatever makes sense in your school. But having smaller groups of teachers discuss smaller groups of students means that students won’t fall through the cracks, and it will be easier to give them individualized support.
So, how will you provide intervention to the students who need it? What about extensions or enrichment? What if a student needs social or emotional support? This is the time to plan how you will respond to where a student is at in their learning, and their life. Come up with ideas for intervention and enrichment offerings, and set aside time during the school day for students to make the most of this.
3. Take Steps to Meet Students’ Needs
Now it’s time to put all of your plans into action. This is really where flex time ties in. Having one or more flex periods gives you, as an educator, the opportunity to help students who are struggling to learn at grade level, or to extend learning for the ones who already get it.
A flex period can also be there for students who may need to meet with school counselors, or those who want to pursue a project that interests them, or maybe even just have a break during the day to read a book. If you know what your students need, this is the chance to give them supports to fill that need.
Adding a flex period to your school’s schedule does take work — but it’s worth it. If your school hasn’t done this, we have some resources to help you understand why, and how to do it. If you are already utilizing a flex period, we hope this article has provided you with some ideas for how your school can help teachers meet the needs of all students.