What makes or breaks a new program at a school? Often, preparedness and having all (or most) staff onboard. All of the systems of support need to be in place. If a school is considering adding a flex period to their school schedule for extra help, intervention, remediation, enrichment, etc.; the success that addition may depend on a few factors. At Enriching Students, for years we've worked with schools who have taken on flex time (or WIN time, activity periods, there can be many names!). We'd like to share a few things that we've found has helped schools succeed. First, it's the why.
Why Flex Time?
What might be the biggest contributing factor to the success of any new program? Motive. Why does a school make changes? Is it simply to meet new standards required by the state, to win a special award? Sometimes, schools will decide to add a flex period because the state, or a certain accredited program, may require schools to provide time for extra help, intervention time, or maybe to build student-teacher relationships. This isn't necessarily a bad motivation. And, flex time can ge a great solution for this! But if that's all there is to the goal, it may have limited success.
After all, shouldn't any new learning initiative really be about helping students to succeed? If an initiative is motivated by doing what is best for students, it has a better chance of survival. This doesn't make it infallible, and it certainly isn’t a guarantee that it is going to succeed. But it means that staff, parents, and students alike will be more invested in it, and more willing to make necessary changes along the way. That way, it's not just an idea being solely perpetuated by an administrator, or a handful of staff members. Understanding why a program is being added will help everyone become invested. But we'll talk more about a 'culture of investment' later. Next, once everyone know why, the question becomes 'How does this work?'.
Knowing the Process
If a school wants to add a flex period to their school schedule, there's a lot of things to consider. The process needs to be fully explained, and for it to be explained thoroughly, it needs to be fully understood. It seems like a simple thing, but it’s more than just adding extra time slot into the school day. Reasons for this implementation need to expressed. In addition, it may be helpful to collect data as to how it’s been helpful to other schools, the results they have seen. In addition, it might advantageous to speak with other schools to learn about their process and what has helped them to be successful. Learn more by watching the videos “Why Create a Flex Block,’ and ‘How Can You Create a Flex Block?’ which explain the benefits of adding a Flex block, and how to begin the process.
More than likely, minutes will need to be taken from other times of the day in order to create enough time for a flex period. Some schools have taken a small amount from each block, perhaps only 6 minutes, to create a flex block. Our article ‘Different Types of Flexible Schedules,’ explores this in depth and explains a variety of ways schools have created a schedule that worked for them.
Another key piece in the process is having the objective clearly in mind. The reasons for adding the program, as we've discussed, and the goals for the program. These may change over time, but having some goals to start with can help keep the initiative on track. As these goals are set, check in over time. Are goals being met? These could be goals like improving school culture, seeing an improvement in achievement for students who are struggling academically or emotionally, to give a few examples. Goal setting can be especially meaningful and successful if a school is working as a PLC (professional learning community). This will help teachers and adminstrators unitedly track the progess of the school's flex time implementation, the impact it's having on students, and help everyone to keep going when problems arise. There will be goals to focus on!
A Culture of Endorsement
As we discussed earlier, it's important that staff are on board. If a decision is made to create a flex block, perhaps using that time for extra help sessions, special courses for enrichment opportunities, class extensions, remediation/intervention etc., it will require staff to be invested. When a new program is introduced by administration with the expectation that staff will simply comply, it will be difficult for the program to succeed.
Teachers especially will want to know how this will impact them and their current workload. So it’s important for them to want this change to take place, to understand its value and how it will positively impact students, and their own teaching practice. If flex time is truly something that teachers and staff want, If they are invested in student learning and invested in flex time as a solution, implementation will go much smoother. On the flip side, if a teacher introduces this idea, it will be important for them to understand it and be convinced of it’s value in order for other staff members and Administration to want to buy into it as well.
This will likely be a new idea for parents, too. They may have many concerns. For example, will it be taking away valuable class time and thus be detrimental to their child’s education? For parents to accept these changes, it goes back to understanding and explaining the process and the value. Parents need to know what this new program is, how it works, and how it will benefit their students. Parent buy-in can be a huge component in making flex time successful not just in its implementation stage, but further down the road as well.
The same can be said of students -- they might be resistant at first. If they know where they're going for flex time, and why, it will help them to see it's not just a study hall, or a waste of their time. If they're given options during flex time to pursue things that interest them, or are able to get that extra time they need to master an assignment, or get the emotional help they need, likely they'll have the same reaction we've seen from so many students. They won't want to give it up!
So, how can you make flex time a success? Know the why, know the process, and with that, get everyone on board. Of course, change is always difficult, and any program implementation will be a rocky road, but when it's for the well-being of students, it's well worth it!