It’s Time to Break Up with Your Master Schedule

A few days ago I ran across this blog from Bradley Lands (@MrLands). Extreme Makeover: School Edition. To summarize, the author highlights three critical concepts that need to be cultivated in 21st century schools in order to rebuild them “from the ground up!.”

  1. Establish a Positive School Culture 
  2. Encourage Intrinsic, Student Motivation 
  3. Integrate 21st Century Workplace Readiness Skills

None of these I would argue against. In fact, I like them because they require students, teachers, and administrators to get real about what their time together really means and how they can maximize their timevto learn, grow, and laugh as a community. But it’s in regard to time that I would propose a fourth component.

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Work anywhere. Anytime.

I’m a change-minded person. At home and at school I make frequent micro-changes. These changes are geared towards my need to keep things fresh. Micro-changes are the simple things. Rearranging furniture at home or my office, relocating pictures and plaques and even a new desk arrangement are micro-changes that provide a new look to my environment and refreshes my perspective.  What’s my latest micro-change? Armed with my smart phone, iPad and trusty MacBook Pro, I’ll pack up what I need and go to a classroom, shared common area, media center or cafeteria study hall and hunker down for a couple of hours of work. I’ve found that a change of location, when doing certain tasks, not only makes the work more enjoyable, it increases my visibility among students and teachers and models a more mobile and adaptable  approach to task completion (See #1 & #3 above.). Where we choose to work and how long we spend on a task should be an option for students as well. Learning isn’t guaranteed to happen in 42 minute increments eight or nine times a day.

A macro-change can be thought of as a second order change as defined in the leadership framework described by Waters, Marzano, and McNulty.  Macro-changes in schools often center around modifications to the master schedule, new grading methods, curriculum changes and alignment, and even policies. For some, a macro-change stuns the senses and challenges one’s belief system to the core. For others it’s part of doing business. It can create an internal identity crisis or fuel the imagination. To accomplish, as Lands suggests, an extreme makeover for public schools, the finite resource of time and its influence on the teaching and learning process must be completely reevaluated. So here is my number four.

     4. Let student-learning drive each day not your master schedule.

The single greatest obstacle in transforming schools is the concept of time. A strict adherence to outdated or obsolete master schedules constrain not only our teachers; but run counter to real life work environments. Not to mention being less than learner-centered, master schedules driven by periods of time can force teachers to retreat into their own world and become content silos. There are legitimate concerns among teachers of the need to cover the assigned curriculum in the allotted 180 days. Why? Because once we hit day 180, the children are boxed up and moved on to the next grade. This is not an indictment on teachers. It’s the reality of a broken system. Tightly adhered to schedules that parse out time in uniform increments is the product of a time when efficient methods of production ruled the day. Schools at the turn of the century readily adopted these same workplace principles and applied them to schools. Today’s workplace is changing rapidly. Collaboration, effective communication, problem-solving, creativity, determination and innovation are the new norms. How time is managed in our schools must change in order to provide opportunities to build these skills.

Elementary schools have had it right for years. Chunk out time for instruction based on student’s needs and learning goals. Today looked different than yesterday and tomorrow won’t look like today. I’ve yet to see a job that is structured in eight 42 minute periods. How can we preach 21st century workplace readiness skills when our system is structured just the opposite?

When I read Bradley’s blog I was inspired by the fact that he is one of many educators that are fed up with the traditional structures, beliefs, and over-arching cultural expectations tied to what public schools should be and how they should operate. The time to transform or schools is now and the transformation must start with making time to talk about time. Let the makeover begin!

It’s better in the middle!

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3 thoughts on “It’s Time to Break Up with Your Master Schedule

  1. Absolutely spot on with time issue! Our son despises the time schedules in high school because he doesn’t transition well until he is done with a job. Isn’t that how most jobs are structured to a degree? You work on a project until completion or a large chunk of time, not 42 min increments. Time for change! Pun intended!

  2. We are in the process of attempting to move away from our master schedule. How would you recommend moving away from it? Is your school a slave to the master schedule as well?

    • Scott,
      I’m sooo sorry I have not responded more quickly. To be honest, after the posting of this blog, much of my world began to change. However, I’m now at a new school and, ironically, I chose today to begin a new blog on the same topic. To answer your question, start with a discussion with this one simple question, “What if we ___________ with our master schedule?”. You can fill in the blank with anything that you feel needs to be addressed or perhaps what you’ve been hearing from teachers or students. Example. Last year I had several 8th graders tell me they hated Wednesdays because of the schedule we had to run due to the early dismissal for our PLC work. After meeting with them a few times I asked this question of my leadership team. “What if we blew up our Wednesday schedule?” I went on to share what students were telling me and that served as a springboard to more in-depth conversations. Feel free to email me at skwikkel@clearlakeschools.org or give me a call at 641-357-6114 and I’d be happy to visit with you. 🙂

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