At one High School in Massachusetts, administration was searching for transformation. As in many schools across the country, educators are seeking a way to improve learning for students, to make the shift from a schedule driven by content, to one that enables students to build relationships, master what they’re learning and be intrinsically motivated to do so. They wanted to support the whole child.
They ran a semester block schedule but felt that students didn’t have time to really build relationships with teachers, or truly grasp the material they were learning before they had to move on to something else. They knew something needed to change.
Asking the ‘Essential Question’
After taking a look at their goals, trying to figure out what it really was they wanted to accomplish, the administrative team at the school came up with what they called their ‘essential question’:
“How do we create a structure that shifts from academic compliance to whole child opportunities for all students?”
A whole-child approach helps ensure all students’ needs are being met, and that they can have the opportunity to thrive. It’s a worthwhile goal for any school to work towards.
Maybe your school had come up with a similar question after identifying its goals. Finding your purpose and defining your ‘why’ can be a powerful driver for change. Once you have a purpose, you will have motivation for making sure that purpose comes to fruition.
At this high school, they identified that they wanted to create a different structure.They realized they needed to revamp their schedule. They created shorter periods that would run all year, and a flex period (often called a flex block or activity period) for personalized support and enrichment.
But Change Takes Time, and is Rarely Easy
Changing a school schedule is no small feat, and there are a lot of stakeholders. Teachers, students, parents, administration — it’s not likely that all will agree on or embrace changes. It may take some time for all to understand what these changes, if implemented, would look like, and why it’s being considered.
Making sure the ‘why’ behind a schedule change is communicated to all stakeholders is important. And including them in the discussion and decision-making process, before the decision is made, will help too. Consider the importance of student voice.
Give Students Voice, or They Will Find a Voice
One challenge the high school in MA ran into was that students weren’t so keen on schedule changes. Implementation took longer than expected, and by the time the new schedule was rolled out, it was going to be affecting a new group of students who felt they hadn’t had a voice in the process.
They opposed the schedule, and had many questions for administration. They found a way to voice their concerns. The school principal listened to and answered each of their questions, and the new schedule ended up having student support. But this still teaches a valuable lesson.
A schedule change that has student backing will be more likely to succeed. If students aren’t part of the process, or don’t understand why changes are happening or what they will look like, they will likely make their voice heard.
Giving students a voice has many benefits, and it’s a key component of whole-child learning. When students feel that they have a say in their education, that they are learning about things that matter to them, and benefit them, it empowers their school experience, and they will be more prepared for what comes next.
At the high school where these changes were implemented, flexible time helped students achieve better academically, reduce stress, and stay on top of their work. Giving students time to do what they need to do helped personalize learning at one school. If you are a teacher or administrator, maybe it could do the same at your school!