What will school look like in the fall? What will school look like after coronavirus? These questions have been on our minds, and likely, as a teacher or school administrator, they’ve been on yours too.
The truth is, we don’t know what school is going to look like. As your school begins to plan the new year — new budgets, new master schedule, new school year calendar, likely you’ve had to make a lot of room to adapt as new information and guidelines become available. Will you still be doing remote learning during the fall? Will you be going back to school but with a staggered schedule and smaller class sizes? What will the long-term impacts of this be as far as how you teach in your classroom? There are so many factors to consider that planning for the coming school year has been called a ‘Logistical nightmare.’
At Enriching Students, we’re not experts on teaching. But we do know about flexible scheduling, and how schools we work with have planned and implemented major shifts to their schedule and school design. Over the years we’ve talked with many of our schools about how they effectively planned and executed a flexible schedule.
Since the future of school is as of yet unknown, we wanted to share, not a bunch of rules, but principles that other schools have shared to successfully implement a new program and a flexible schedule. We hope this article will offer some helpful insights about planning and managing a daily or weekly schedule in a way that can adapt to student needs. We will discuss the following steps for considering your school’s schedule:
- Identify student needs
- Include all stakeholders
- Identify the schedule type
- Make time to meet social-emotional needs
- Assess what’s working and what isn’t
1. Identify Student Needs
Successful schools make student well-being and success the basis for their decision-making. In other words, they have the right motive. Jonathan Vander Els, former principal and current Director of the New Hampshire Learning Initiative expressed how his school ended up moving to a competency-based model. They didn’t start off with that intent, he shared. Instead, “We actually had simply asked the question… ’What is it that we want for our learners?’”
The needs of students differ from school to school, but from speaking to students, from the data you have available, what is it that they really need right now, and what will they need going into the next school year? How can this be addressed? Some schools have made surveys where they ask students what they need and want. If you have data like this available, decisions will be easier to make. What data do you have available to you that will tell you something about student needs?
Once schools identify student needs, then they can make decisions about their schedule. At Falmouth High School in Massachusetts, they realized that students were under a lot of homework stress, and needed extra help. They created a flex period within their schedule to support this.
2. Include all stakeholders
Top-down decisions usually aren’t met with enthusiasm. The most successful schools that we’ve seen are the ones who include all stakeholders in the decision-making process. This means of course administrators and teachers, but also the rest of the school staff, students, and parents. This is no easy task, especially in the current climate, and it may be impossible to make everyone happy. But it can be possible to give everyone a chance to be heard, and to refrain from making decisions without involving the entire school community, from the planning stage to implementation and feedback.
This is what they did at Falmouth High School in Massachusetts. The administrators saw a presentation on flex time in a school that really inspired them. This was something they really wanted to try, but they didn’t just go back to their school and start making changes. They included staff in every step of the investigation and discussion process. Mary Gans, Principal of Falmouth High School explains,
“We always had said right from the get-go, this is a pilot, we’re not doing it just to do this. And if we don’t like it, then we’ll trash it and we’ll do something else…we’re not just going to do something if it’s obviously not good for teachers and students.”
It was only after putting this initiative to vote, and having the vote be in favor of this new program, that they moved forward. Teachers were included and supported, and the motive of administration was to do something that would be a benefit to teachers and to students. This kind of inclusion and buy-in is key to the success of any program.
A big concern right now it the ‘COVID-19 slide’, learning gaps resulting from the sudden shift to remote learning and loss of structure. Interventions to assist with learning gaps are being considered by some schools. Flexible periods of time during the school can create a learning environment that meets a variety of student needs, and support a more fluid school day with differing start and end times. What do some of these schedules look like?
3. Identify the type of schedule you need
Once you know the needs of your students, and have an idea of what your school structure is going to look like, you can identify the type of schedule that will work best for your needs.
When talking about ‘staggered schedules’ a common example of this might be the A/B type schedules many schools already run. This allows schools to manage two different types of schedules and could incorporate differing start times.
Another fluid approach is a rotating drop schedule. This typically consists of around 8 school periods. Students go to each class every day, but when they go to those classes rotates every day, ‘dropping’ one class from the end of the previous day, and adding it to the beginning of the next day. In, some schools may have a total of 8 teaching periods, but during the school day students only attend 6 of those. Each day they have students ‘drop’ one or two class periods from the 8-period rotation. Sound confusing? Here are some visualizations.
Other schools take advantage of staggering lunch schedules to provide extra learning time. For example, they may have three blocks of time for Lunch A, B, and C. Students going to Lunch A would have B and C available for enrichment or extended learning time — again, whatever it is that your school has decided students need.
The three types of schedules listed above could help schools who need to implement an adaptable schedule this year. Check out our page Different Types of Flexible Schedules for more ideas.
4. Make time for Social-Emotional Needs
James Lane is Virginia’s superintendent of public instruction. He shared with NPR, “…there is a need for us to focus on social and emotional learning for students, and not only how we can provide the academic support, but how can we provide the mental health support and the wraparound supports for students when they come back, to help them recover and bring back that safety net of schools.”
One piece that we’re really passionate about is ensuring that there is time in the school day for meeting students’ social-emotional needs. Why? Because we’ve seen how students’ lives have been affected, for the good, by means of having a specific time for this kind of support during the school day.
In just one example, at Colchester High School, counselor Bob Hall shared that having this time “revolutionized what we do in guidance…I’ve never felt more effective as a guidance counselor than I do now. What it did for us is it gave us a class. So now every single day all three guidance counselors…are meeting with students in small groups.”
In fact, this system allows counselors at Colchester to effectively meet with every single student in the school multiple times a year. And the students that need more frequent, specific help are able to get it as well. When students begin school this year, many of them will be carrying heavy burdens. The more systems of support a school can have in place the better, especially when it comes to meeting their social-emotional needs.
5. Assess what’s working, and what isn’t
You won’t know what’s working or not until you try it. Some schools choose to implement a new program as a pilot, and have staff and students assess how things are going periodically and whether or not they want to continue. Likely, this new school year will involve many changes and the need to adapt.
At Falmouth High School, about 6 months into their flex period implementation, the school’s union representative put the staff to vote about the new program. 100% of staff agreed they wanted to keep the program. They also had a student who conducted a survey among fellow students about homework stress, and found that this time period was proving extremely helpful. Feedback may not always be as positive at this, but periodic votes and surveys will help you to ‘read the room’ and see if your current strategy is helping or hurting. Data can tell you a lot too — think about attendance, engagement, and levels of achievement. Are students and teachers thriving or just struggling to survive?
There is no doubt that this is going to be a really tough year, and that’s an understatement. We have so much respect and admiration for educators, and our hope is that this crisis will shed light on how valuable you really are. As you look ahead to the start of the new school year, we hope you’re able to find joy in your students and the new memories you will make together.