What is the meaning of a ‘flex day’ in schools? A flex day is an entire school day dedicated to flexible learning time for students. This enables them to work independently, get extra help where they need it, and pursue enrichment projects. Many schools have a ‘flex block’, ‘activity period’ or something called ‘W.I.N. time’ built into their daily schedule — all of these terms refer to a similar flexible period of time that occurs daily. A flex day is basically an extension of this. But it really gives students even greater opportunities to take a deep dive into something they’re learning. For a school that wants to follow a Genius Hour model, like Google’s 20% time, or really commit to Project-Based Learning, a flex day is a great solution.
We’re going to explore 5 reasons why your school should consider adding a flex day to its schedule, and we’ll include some examples from one school that has done it really well. Scott Rains and Kelly Musgrove are two educators from Georgia who have worked at the STEM Institute at Newton College and Career Academy. The STEM Institute uses a Project-Based-Learning approach, interwoven with a STEM-focused curriculum. In their roles at this school, they had firsthand experience in managing a Flex Day, and seeing the amazing things it allowed students to accomplish. Listen to the interview below.
Why Consider a Flex Day?
1. It teaches students important life skills
A flex day can teach students how to effectively manage their time. When a student is in a traditional classroom, the bell tells them where to go, and when they get to their next class, the teacher tells them what to do. It’s easy to be told what to do. But when you have to decide what your priorities are and how to manage your time to meet your goals, more effort if required. Some students will likely need guidance and someone to hold them accountable during this time, but think about the independent learner that could come out of a program like this. When that student goes to college or starts a job, they will have those self-directed learning skills that will set them up for success. Scott Rains says “When they go off to college or career or whatever it is that they go to do, they’re ready. They don’t have to worry about how to manage an A/B or an alternating college schedule because they’ve already done it with us. ”
2. It boosts creativity
Giving students an entire day to work on projects means they will be able to dig deeper into a subject that interests them. This is a great opportunity for students to explore the arts, maybe composing music, writing a play, or honing their painting skills. And really, it can boost creative thinking in any subject area. Kids are creative. Sometimes they just need some time, flexibility, and freedom to let that shine.
3. It gives students time for internships and/or career learning
A flex day can be a great chance for students to learn more about a career path they want to pursue. Especially for older high school students, this flexible time can allow them to do an internship with a local business that specializes in a skill they want to learn. At Newton, they were able to host speakers from local businesses to combine in during their Flex Day and talk to interested students about their business. The school also partnered with many local businesses who were eager to work with their students. Why? Because these students had learned important independent thinking, time management, and industry-related skills that made them valuable. One such student worked at a local brake-pad manufacturer in their IT department. He was so skilled in his area that, despite being a high school student, had a team of workers that reported to him.
4. It improves student learning
Flex days enable students to have more time to master a subject. Specifically for schools that have a Project-Based Learning approach, a flex day will enable students to work independently or in small groups on a project that spans multiple curriculum areas. This gives students the opportunity to work in something that ignites their passion. Kelly Musgrove explains, “It’s giving them a chance to actually choose what they feel is the best way to show us that they have learned material.” And that choice is powerful. That kind of intrinsically motivated learning will make them look forward to coming to school. In addition, collaborative group projects will help students learn how to work well with others across different subject areas, which gives them real-world skills that they will utilize in college, career, and beyond.
5. It means collaborative time and professional development opportunities for teachers
If students are learning independently for one entire school day, this means teachers aren’t teaching a class. At least not in the traditional sense. They can use this time to guide and check in with students, offering extra help, intervention and remediation for those who need it. But this can also be a valuable time for teachers to learn, collaborate, and plan. Instead of giving teachers just a class period here or there for planning, imagine what they could do with a much larger chunk of time every week. They would also be able to participate regularly in professional development opportunities, and PLC meetings. Instead of spending hours after school on these things, teachers would have time during the school day.
A flex day gives students and teachers tremendous opportunities for expanded learning and collaboration. But how can you make a flex day successful? Consider these three tips.
3 Tips for Making a Flex Day a Success
1. Ensure stakeholder buy-in
Consider all of your stake-holders in the process of implementing and managing a flex day. This means staff, students, and parents. Address their concerns and involve them in the decision making process.
2. Plan, and have an organized system of scheduling
Know what students are going to be working on during their flex day, and where they are going. Have a pre-determined system in place to manage this. “The teachers that are really understanding and utilizing the model to its fullest,” Scott shared, “they understand that the first part of that week is dedicated to building for their flex day.” That was the system that worked for them. Discuss with your teams the best approach for your school ahead of time.
Check in with students during their flexible time and look for specific, detailed responses about what they’re working on. “You can determine a student’s level of understanding based on the words that they’re using,” says Scott, “The teacher’s looking for, and listening for especially vocabulary that is specific to what that student is learning about.” If a student can articulate what they are working on and why, instead of using vague language, it’s a good indication that they are on task and actively engaged in what they’re doing.
Depending on your student population, needs, school resources, and staff capacity, a flex day might look different in your school. But that is what makes it so valuable. A flex day can be tailored to meet the unique needs of any school. “We’ve created the time and the method for them to learn that best meets their needs,” Scott shared. And that’s why this type of schedule can be so effective. No, it’s not your typical, traditional approach. But the student learning and staff collaboration that results is far from typical, too. And that’s not a bad thing.