30 May Let’s Talk About Schedules
This took a little longer to come together than I intended, but as the saying goes, “better late than later”. With final preparations for our move to California, plus school ending, plus deciding to potty train for some ill advised reason, it just took a while to get it actualized. But, here it is… a somewhat helpful rant (I hope) about schedules and schools.
First, the background
In my consulting life, I just happened to be in schools back to back where I offhandedly mentioned something about morning meeting and in both locations teachers looked at each other, than looked at me and said, “we don’t have morning meetings.” Digger deeper into that somewhat startling statement revealed that both schools have their schedules given to them, designed by someone at the district level.
I’ve seen variations on this in other places, people that have to have reading at a specific time for a specific duration, people who have no recess scheduled and no freedom to add it in. When I asked about it in a tweet, lots of you wrote to me with some very specific needs. Before we dig into that, there are two fundamental issues with the practice of giving teachers a set schedule that I want to name:
- If you want teachers to be the best they can, you have to give them space and autonomy to make decisions. Most of the teachers I know have masters degrees, and a billion additional credits from ongoing learning. These are highly educated professionals, let them do the job they have studied at for years. You want highly motivated, innovative, responsive teachers? Give them responsibility and a message of capability. Daniel Pink and his book Drive can help you with reasons why.
- The people/committee making the schedule may not have the expertise to have this job. Is that rude to say? I just… if you aren’t putting recess on the schedule, you really don’t know anything about kids and learning. I get that curriculums all demand a billion minutes for the absolute best implementation, but who is your master? The kids or the curriculum? It’s not like the math curriculum called up the writing curriculum to be like, “Hey, I am saying 75 minutes and so are you, maybe we should resolve that?” That’s on us to do. It’s like we combined recipes but didn’t edit out the duplicate ingredients.
In a perfect world, teachers would have the information of what needs to get done in a day (ex, reading for 40 minutes, word study for 20), and also the responsibility to schedule it in a way that is responsive to the needs of the children they have at that time.
The Reasons Why Schedules are Given
There are plenty of people are on board with the idea of teachers designing their own schedules, but I hear two main reasons why that doesn’t happen:
Specialists, Intervention, and Push In
I struggle with this (please note the word “I”, this is an opinion) Like, I get the reasoning, but why are we saying kids can’t go on a morning recess because 1-2 adults find it easier to organize their schedules when everyone does reading at the same time? It always strikes me as odd when the bulk of a decision is based on what makes things easier for a minority of adults. I’m just putting this out there, but I have to think many of us who are specialists and interventionists are on board with kids getting recess in the morning (for example) and would be willing to be flexible and creative if it meant the children we support were MORE supported by a responsive schedule in their classroom.
When we didn’t make schedules ____ would not get done/time was wasted
My first years teaching I did not have a schedule given to me, nor any boundaries given about what should be getting done and whoo-boy did I waste some time. I did not find my way through that wilderness AT ALL. Some people do, me, well, I was cutting out snowmen from mailbox magazine and forcing children to write acrostic poems. So this is why I am not against setting boundaries: “40 minutes for reading”, but also choice, “when it works best for your kids.” One administrator I had set the boundary that each subject matter had to have its turn being scheduled in the morning. We submitted our schedules, they were checked to ensure we had met the guidelines, and if you didn’t, someone helped you. You learned how to schedule and you learned how to be responsive while still being responsible. What I am saying here is that if people are not making the best use of time, don’t take that job away from them, teach them to be better at it. Isn’t that what we believe?
About this post
Okay, so inherently I believe that people should be making their own schedules with some boundaries. But what boundaries? This post is going to lay out what people in various fields have studied, said, or researched about scheduling and what children need to learn and thrive. I am providing direct links to articles and books so you can read them and use them yourself in whatever way you need to advocate for kids. Maybe its sharing them with the scheduling committee, maybe its to design your own schedule in a better way for next year, maybe its just to use as food for thought.
What I Won’t Cover:
There are a few things that I am omitting from this post intentionally. I will name them here.
Snack: I am a big believer in having a snack table and having kids eat their snack when they are hungry. That’s a life skill! And if I had a big breakfast or no breakfast that impacts my need for when I snack. I think giant class snack times are not particularly responsive to kids. If your argument for it is that kids need time to talk and socialize I would argue that the rest of your schedule might need some revamping. So yes, I think kids should DEFINITELY snack, but as a time of the day, no.
Book/Library Browsing: This was something a few teachers asked me to cover. First of all, if your kids NEVER have access to just looking at books for pure joy in your day- WHAT IN THE WORLD IS HAPPENING? I don’t think this should necessarily be in the schedule since it should be something that happens all day long. Finish up something a little early? Look at a book! Need a breather from something? Look at a book! Come back from recess? Look at a book! Pack your stuff up? Look at a book! I will nestle this under “unstructured times” in my table, but I’m not sure it needs its own time of day.
Minutes in a Curriculum Area: Okay, I was a teacher and I am still in schools and I plan to go back to teaching. When you read the fine print of every curriculum it implies that you have roughly 93287321483736 minutes every day. You literally cannot meet it. I won’t lie to you, I NEVER met it. Here is what I would actually think about: quality of minutes v. quantity of minutes. Sure we want kids reading for a long time, but if half the time is you continually saying, “Okay, lets keep reading. Keep reading! Oh! Getting a little noisy! Keep reading! Okay, we are almost there so keep reading!” that is not quality minutes. Spaced practice is always better than mass practice- a little bit every day over a lot once in a while- so if you get 20 QUALITY minutes every day and then you go out to play, great!
Transition Times: A few people asked me to write about transition times. Here is what I have to say about that, transitions take way longer than they should in lots of places because we wait for everyone to fully transition, then the kids who did so faster get bored and wander away and so on and so forth. My feelings about transitions are that the first few minutes of the next part of the day ARE the transition. If we are moving from math to read aloud, I am going to start reading the book and kids are going to make their way over as I do so. My mentor teacher did that and I have copied her for 19 years and it works fine. If you are speaking about transitions between physical spaces, well, yeah, that takes time, but it means the thing before will just end up being shorter.
Now, What You Came For…
Below is all the things people tweeted at me that they need to advocate for in schedules that are given to them. I’ve provided explanations as needed and links to original sources as much as possible. Some things require synthesis, for example, there is not necessarily a research article on morning meetings out there, so what I’ve done is link to some things about relationship building since that should be the purpose of morning meeting, as opposed to, say, rote repetitions of “Today is, Tomorrow will be”. Your angle in might be, “Hey, I’ve been reading about the importance of relationships, lets examine our day for opportunities to build those.” I encourage people to drop more links or resources in the comments. Lets do the thing that communities do and help each other out.
Ample recess/movement time
|Movement helps children with focus and develops the brain.|
Movement helps with gross and fine motor, which children need to write, sit in chairs, handle materials.
Unstructured times (for example: work choice, quiet choice, soft starts)
Unstructured times replenish willpower, increase opportunities to learn decision making, work on social skills, and pursue passion projects
Morning meetings, closing meetings, time for relationship building across the day
Teaching is about relationships and community. These are the times of day when we build those things with intentionality.
Play, all kinds
Play is often where kids develop new intellectual skills, explore social concepts, and activate a growth mindset
Time for working on social emotional competencies (whole class conversations, reflective circles, calming spaces)
It is our responsibility to help children thrive in school and beyond. One aspect of being prepared for the world is social competency
The idea of teachers building schedules seems small with some lenses, but its not. In some places it is symptomatic of other, larger issues. The number one influence on student achievement according to Hattie, et al, is collective teacher efficacy. What is that? The “collective belief of the staff… in their ability to positively affect students.” In other words, when I feel like I can make an impact on my kids, they do better. When the power to make decisions in my classroom is taken from me, it can cascade into feelings of passivity and powerlessness that ripples into all corners of the community. Teachers need to feel trusted, to feel like they have the power to make the changes their kids need, that they are capable, that they have the ability to make a difference, because we do. (John Hattie said so)