Serendipity: Luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for.
My last blog post occurred on January 27, 2013. Almost one year ago to the day we were in the midst of a major master schedule change that took an unexpected turn later that year. I’m now at Clear Lake Middle School and, as serendipity would have it, I find myself in a similar scenario but with a different group of teachers and a new perspective on “situational awareness”.
I woke up this morning and finally felt the desire to pick up where my old blog left off. Master schedule discussions can bring out the best and the worst in all of us if we’re not careful. If your current master schedule is a recognized train wreck then you’re likely to have relatively smooth sailing. If not, and the need is less obvious, you will encounter some pretty passionate discussions!
I’ve gone through this process several times and to varying degrees in my tenure as a middle school principal. However, it was during my time at Spencer Middle School that helped me refine some simple ground rules for this type of work.
1. There are no sacred cows.
In short, everything is on the table for discussion. “We’ve always done it this way”, can never serve as a rationale for retaining past practice(s). What are some sacred cows?
- “I have to meet with my students every day.”
- “I need at least 45 minute class periods.”
- “Reading has to be taught in the morning.”
- “Math needs to be ability grouped.”
Don’t let these or any other sacred cows impact your team’s, “What if?” brainstorming.
2. All ideas are valued.
This rule serves as the safe zone for your discussions. Making sure you have the right players at the table is crucial because trust in one another is essential. I strongly suggest that when an idea is shared, the speaker is allowed to complete their thought without further discussion or analysis. Clarifying questions are fine as long as they are judgement free. If team members are allowed to respond during the brainstorming process, you will quickly erode any trust between people and stifle the creative process. This is not the time or place for push back or support. Even supportive comments can unintentionally create alliances down the road or, even more damaging, the perception of an alliance.
3. Invoke the Vegas Rule
The Vegas Rule provides a reasonable safeguard against information being shared prematurely. Nothing will create more angst among non-committee members than when they hear about an idea that has not been completely fleshed out by the group. This is NOT about being a secret society. Transparency in your work is critical in order to engender faith in others in the work being done by your team. The Vegas Rule is all about time and place. Information should only be shared when a) the group feels they need more eyes looking at an option or b) when they feel a concept is as polished and ready for public consumption as possible.
Research in education is funny. Often you can find 500 pages in support of something and 500 pages in argument against the same practice. With that said, asking this question about a particularly sticky scenario or perhaps an unknown or tried practice can help. Here’s an example. A few years ago, we were running with an idea called the closed loop. Simply put, some felt that it might be a good idea to have our students start with their advisory teacher and then end their day in class (ex. math) with the same teacher. Our counselor, thinking it out loud, applied the I.T.W.Y.K. question to his own son. Hearing it from a parent’s point of view helped many of us better conceptualize the proposal and it soon gained acceptance by the team. Putting a student face (as we called it) to a problem can be helpful.
5. Know what is non negotiable.
Don’t confuse this with a sacred cow. These are system-related non negotiable items. Knowing these ahead of time will make your journey a more efficient one. What are some examples you ask?
- Bus routes. If you cannot change your arrival and departure times, you know how many minutes you have to work.
- Lunch times. Some master contracts dictate a prescribed number of minutes for a teacher’s lunch. Subtract that from your available minutes from above (and passing time) and you’ll pretty much have your period length determined.
- Required courses. Depending on your own state’s guidance in this area, this may go a long way in determining how many periods you need. (Don’t get me started on class periods, though!)
- Staffing. Can shared staff times be altered? Can you add staff? Will you be asked to reduce staff? In short, know what you can and cannot do with your staffing pattern.
So, if you’re looking to break up with your master schedule, you might consider adopting some of these suggestions. But always remember, regardless of how challenging or out-of-the-box an idea might be, this is about the kids and not about the big people.