Wednesday, April 17, 2013

21st Century Perspective on Creating Innovative School Schedules

“If time is not fixed, there are lots of possibilities to make schooling more responsive to the individual needs of students and teachers and more economical to operate.” Frank Kelly, Ted McCain, and Ian Jukes, Teaching the Digital Generation: No More Cookie-Cuter High Schools
Why do high schools keep the same master schedule from one year to the next? One of the most difficult lessons I have learned as principal of an innovative high school is that there is no law or policy that prescribes what the school’s master schedule should look like from year-to-year. In fact, innovative high schools see schedule-flexibility as a must in order to fit the schedule to student needs, rather than fit students to a schedule.  This is my fourth year in my current position, and the master schedule has changed every year, and it looks like it will change again this year. Our master schedule is truly responsive to the individual needs of our students and our staff and that is how it should be.

Most high schools define themselves by their schedules. For example, a four-by-four high school defines itself by consistently having 4 periods of instruction a day in classes that last for one semester. In contrast, a traditional schedule high school defines itself as having 6 or 7, possibly 8, discrete periods of instruction a day that last for a calendar year. Then there’s blended models that incorporate aspects of both, as well as schedules that include some even shorter blocks of time for enrichment periods or advisory periods. The bottom line though is that most high schools do define themselves by their schedules, and that schedule is a fixed entity.  They see their schedule  as something that cannot be changed from year to year. But what if that schedule were seen as a flexible component that could be adapted to fit the needs of students from year to year? I submit that 21st century high school leaders view master schedules, not as a fixed entities to which students are fitted, but instead view schedules as just another tool to meet the needs of students.

For example, one of our commitments as a high school is to try to keep our class sizes down. In an age when individuals like Bill Gates argue that “Class size doesn't matter” my staff and I believe wholeheartedly it does matter. While it might not matter if your only yardsticks are test scores, we know from our personal experience the size of a class does matter when it comes to teachers being able to form significant relationships with the students they teach. These relationships are more than just about making our students get higher scores on the latest standardized tests. Smaller classes are about relationships and making our school a humane place to learn, instead of a factory that churns out “high-test scores” each year. And, to keep those class sizes down in the past several years, we have changed our schedule so that we do not have 35 students sitting in classrooms.

The bottom line about scheduling should be simple. School leaders need to change their perspective on schedules and master scheduling, and be flexible. Twenty-first century learning demands it. Instead of viewing the schedule as a fixed element that is not subject to change from year to year, why not view it as simply another tool in the tool chest to better meet the needs of your students? That’s being a 21st century leader in innovation.

Just to give you an idea on what we’re doing. Here’s our proposed schedule this year. I have to thank my guidance counselor for coming up with this one.

Period Times
1st Period (Semester-Long Class? 7:40-9:10
2nd Period (Year-Long Class) 9:12-10:02
3rd Period (Year-Long Class) 10:04-10:54
4th Period (Year-Long Class) 10:56-11:46
Enrichment Period (Also advisory Period) 11:48-12:33
Lunch 12:33-1:05
5th Period (Semester-Long Class) 1:10-2:40


  1. Love your thoughts and ideas. Can you provide more specifics as the purpose of your Enrichment/Advisory period you offer students daily? Is this structured like a homeroom or more so for extra time built in for students to gain remedial or enrichment support?

    1. We have a planned period of 45 minutes of time daily that is used for enrichment-tutoring, our family (advisory program), and our weekly school-wide assembly we call "community time." The enrichment-tutoring occurs 3 times a week, advisory 1 time a week, and community every Friday or once a week. Enrichment classes are non-credit student interest classes such as quilting, music, even ball room dancing. Students select the enrichment, except for those assigned to tutoring due to performance. Our advisory groups are self-selected which means students select the group. During advisory, students discuss issues, they engage in team-building or conflict resolution activity learning. They even engage in contests and challenges to other groups. Finally, our community time is for school-wide announcements, student recognitions and awards, and talent showcase where students can perform their talents in front of their peers. This time is built in our schedule every single day. I hope this helps.