Schools face a unique set of challenges in today’s educational ecosystem. Between the pandemic and the constant shift in education, schools are searching for ways to effectively meet the needs of their students and faculty. But how can schools accomplish this when there is limited time during the school day? A proven and trusted way is implementing flex time in schools, right into the daily schedule.
When schools use flex time correctly, they unlock a host of benefits and positive outcomes that the traditional model of school scheduling has never been able to produce. Let’s take a deeper dive into the ins and outs of flex time in schools.
First, what is Flex Time?
What is Flex Time in Schools?
Flex time in schools is a flexible period of time where students can get what they need, when they need it. It empowers teachers to give students what they really need — time, during the school day.
Flex time usually lasts for 30-45 minutes. However, it can be as little as 20 minutes, or last for an hour, or even an entire day. Students can use flex time for enrichment, extra help, social-emotional support, and more! Flex time is there for whatever a student needs most.
School flex time periods can have different names, including:
In some schools, they may give flex time a unique identity that is connected with their school. This could be related to the school’s sports team, something important to the community, or a name that inspires students.
What Does Flex Time Look Like in Schools?
Flex time in schools can look different in each building within a school district, and across different school districts. Most commonly, flex time is implemented once per day, five days per week. This means that students are consistently able to engage with the topics that their flex periods were designed for.
A schedule that includes flex time can take many shapes and forms. There is no “one size fits all” formula to approaching this crucial scheduling componentFor example, a school could set a different flex period, for each subject, for each grade level. Period three could be school-wide flex time for 6th grade, period four for 7th, and period five for 8th. This model would allow for each grade level’s teachers to be available at the same time for extra help. A downfall of this model, though, is of a teacher teaches across grade levels and is not free when flex time falls.
A way to remedy the above situation is to have a uniform flex time in school. This would allow all grades and teachers share a common time to meet for extra help or enrichment.
Another option to open up flex time within a school is by offering a hybrid lunch period/flex period. In this approach, students are either scheduled for lunch that period or flex, and then the next period is set up the same way. This tends to be a popular option in high schools where students tend to have more choice in their schedules High school student could identify the times when they’d like to have their flex time, or even have two flex periods when applicable.
How to Schedule Flex Time in Your School
There is no denying that time is at a premium in the education system. Scheduling flex time in your school might feel impossible as you look over your current schedule structure.
But, there are many ways to create or find the time within the existing school day to schedule flex time. Some schools choose to devote a full period time allotment to flex. Others may stay on the lower end of the spectrum, by allotting as little as 20 minutes per day. Many schools have found a happy medium around 30-45 minutes.
There are a few places to start looking when considering the best ways to fit flex time into the school day.
Modifying Your Homeroom
One of the first places districts look towards is their existing homeroom period and whether or not they need it every day. Many districts opt to use their flex time at the start of the day instead. This could replace having a daily homeroom period, or, homeroom could occur one or two times per week, and flex time during the other days.
In the image below, this school has implemented daily flex time for 40 minutes. On some days they use this for their homeroom/advisory, and on others it is their Focused Learning Time (FLT) flex period.
Combining Flex Time and Lunches
Other schools have divided up their lunch periods into two periods within one. This approach meant that for half a lunch period, some students would be in flex, with the other half eating lunch. A mid-period bell usually sounds to signal a switching of the groups so that each cohort has lunchtime and flex time equally.
Below, see an animated example of how a school could divide a flex period into 3 sections – A, B, and C, and rotate lunches and flex periods for different groups of students.
Adding Minutes from Other Periods
Still, many schools look at other options, rather than interrupting the flow of their usual day. This could mean shaving a few minutes off of each period to create the necessary time for a flex period.
What does this look like? As an example, let’s take a school that had an 8-period school day with 47-minute periods. To create flex time in their school, they could shorten each period to 42 minutes. These five minutes, from 8 periods, could be combined to create a 40 minute 9th period for flex time. This changes the way time is used, without actually changing the length of the school day. See an animated example of this in a 4×4 block schedule below.
The same thing could also be done by taking time off of each passing period. But, that may present too many difficulties and not enough added time in many schools.
An Extended School Day
Some schools (usually those without unions) have simply extended the school day by having staff come earlier or stay later. This may work in some districts, but there are several components to take into consideration. To make this work, schools should consider factors like personnel contracts and community feedback.
When it Comes to Timing, Consider Your Students
It’s also critical to analyze during which period(s) flex time should take place in your school. Figuring out the most productive time in the school day is essential to student success and the effectiveness of the flex period.
For example, scheduling a 12th grade flex period for the first period of the day may minimize its impact. Some students at this grade level may have a late arrival due to their required course load. Finding the appropriate place to schedule flex time in school is as critical to its success as finding the time in general. Some schools may even dedicate an entire day to flexible learning, which gives students of all ages to have voice and choice in their learning.
What Makes Flex Time Successful?
The key to creating flex time that is successful in your school is in the planning, details, and overall implementation of the plan. These things underscore the reason for creating the flex period.
Too often, a school tries to create flex time with the best of intentions, but falls flat because they don’t set staff and students up for success. What are the critical components a school needs in order to do this?
Critical components to making flex time successful are, first, identifying the reasons for creating flex time, and the goals that you want achieved with that time. Schools should be able to clearly identify why they want to do flex time.
Coupled with that is building buy-in from staff and school personnel, students, and parents. Without this, flex time can easily become an afterthought or a basic study hall period that accomplishes little to nothing for your students.
Then there are the logistics. Your school needs to be prepared to take on an additional time period. Think of what this may involve: a new entry on student schedules, students traveling in the hallways and seeing different teachers. There needs to be some way to keep track of where students are going, why they are going there, and a system for taking attendance.
Like any other meaningful change conducted in the school building, it’s not going to be easy. But by doing the necessary work before implementing the scheduling change, it is well worth it. The success that can be achieved with flex time in school will be far greater if schools pay attention to the details.
Why Flex Time Matters
The school day isn’t getting any longer. The time that students have to engage in meaningful interactions with their teachers and curriculum are the cornerstone of a successful school community.
Flex time provides a built-in time allotment where students can receive the extra help that they need, without missing time from another class or having to sacrifice time after school.
Additionally, flex time in the school day can provide teachers with the ability to extend learning in their own subjects. Some schools promote flex periods as class extensions, while others allow their teachers the freedom to offer extended learning opportunities to students. Flex time allows for more meaningful learning to take place and for students to connect with what they are learning on a deeper level. This results in more student-centered learning.
Flex time also provides a valuable model for students. How so? They can learn how to properly allocate time in their day for things that they need to get done, and for enrichment. Schools have traditionally created tightly packed schedules that only provide a lunch period as a break from the “action.”
By having flex time in your school, students may subconsciously, and perhaps even overtly, learn how to balance the minutes in a day. They will learn that doing so allows for the things that must get done to get done, and still leave them time for what they’d like to do.
Schools send implicit messages every day, and the message that well-planned, intentional flex time sends is that they matter, their time is value-able, and they can have control over their choices. It is one of the most important and impactful scheduling tweaks that can be made throughout the school day.
Flex Time in Schools — The Bottom Line
Finding ways to make the school day conducive to learning, while maximizing the time that students are spending engaged with learning that matters is a fine balance.
Flex time in schools not only allows for more productivity throughout the day, but also for students to have more freedom and flexibility. They enrich their learning through taking different courses, digging deeper within their existing courses, and by doing tasks that unlock their creativity and potential.
Turning this implementation into a reality requires thoughtful planning and intention. But schools that use flex time are actively investing this precious time back into their students and faculty.