How Might We Reimagine Master Schedules During Coronavirus Quarantine?

This post was originally published on https://learnercenteredleadership.blogspot.com/ on March 21, 2020.

Yesterday I had the privilege of connecting with educators across the country who are part of the Altitude Learning partnership network.  It is clear that as a broad educational community, we are still very much in the early phases of adjusting and adapting to Coronavirus school closures.  We are concerned about health and safety of ourselves, our families, our friends, our neighbors, and our communities.  Time and time again, I have schools serve as supportive and stabilizing forces during times of crisis.  We are being asked to do so again.

It was inspiring to hear the many stories of teams of educators coming together to make rapid adjustments, developing and implementing plans to support students and families during this unprecedented time.  Educators have done truly heroic work over the past few days and they have demonstrated incredible adaptability and creativity.  As is also common during a crisis, much of the effort is driven by commitment and adrenaline.  There is only so long that one can sustain this type of intensive work.

One of the teachers asked if any of the schools had developed the equivalent of a school master schedule to create some boundaries and structure that would help to frame expectations for students, families, and the educators as well.  While there have been many versions of the “daily schedule” from the perspective of a family that I’ve seen in the past week, the question from this teacher led me to think about what might be possible from a schoolwide in the current context.  As of this writing, approximately 53.7 million students are affected by school closures in the United States.  In these unprecedented times, how might we reimagine “master schedules” to expand learning opportunities?

First we should understand the constraints that typically drive the development of a school master schedule.  Start and end times are rigid, often determined by transportation logistics, considerations for afterschool activities and athletics, and the duration of the day is set by education code requirements for seat time minutes and/or collective bargaining agreements.  The number of teachers and the resulting “sections” are driven by formulas and the combination of staffing allocations and class size caps means that it becomes very difficult or impossible to offer courses with small numbers of students.  The length of each period is also predetermined and the net result is that there is often an equivalent amount of time in the schedule for each subject.  Teacher preparation and collaboration time adds more complexity to the process of balancing and optimizing the schedule.  Specialized classes, called “singletons” if there are only enough students to fill one section and “doubletons” if there are enough to fill two sections can’t be offered at the same time because they create conflicts for students.

The output of this combination of constraints is that it becomes very difficult to create schedules that meet the unique needs of individual learners.  Now, during the Coronavirus when we are innovating and implementing distance learning programs, most of those constraints are immediately gone.  The ability to provide both synchronous and asynchronous learning options means that the “school day” can start or stop at any time.  Availability of teachers is also going to be more varied as working parents devise creative ways to ensure supervision of their own children in their homes and I’m seeing many parents stagger their professional work schedules early in the morning or late in the evening.  That means that some teachers might now prefer to engage in their professional duties during times that are not commonly associated with a school day.

What if, instead of being driven by the logistics of a master schedule, we stepped back and asked ourself what we are really to achieve?  Based on a research project that reviewed and synthesized current research, we developed an Impact Framework that orients around the development of learner agency, collaboration, and problem-solving.  In general, we want students to know themselves, see themselves as full of possibility, and have the knowledge, skills, and habits to connect with others to be productive citizens.  If this is what we really want for learners, what if we thought about organizing a master schedule around learning experiences that lead to the development of agency, collaboration, and problem-solving?  What if, instead of thinking about uniform “courses,” we oriented the schedule around the goals of each student and ensured that there was time for mentoring and for group projects that developed communication, critical thinking, curiosity, and application of knowledge? What if we allowed for students to demonstrate mastery of core competencies and move at their own rate?

This type of master schedule, from the perspective of a school, might provide time for teachers to “check in” with learners individually or in small groups during the day at pre-scheduled times.  These check-in conversations would provide an opportunity to discuss the goals of the learners, their progress relative to those goals, and the specific plans for achieve the goals.

To ensure some semblance of community, “class meetings” would also be pre-scheduled to provide opportunities to create shared context, engage in brief common experiences, and ensure that students are continuing to develop empathy and collaborative skills.  These class meetings can also be used to launch interdisciplinary projects.  Project teams can be formed and they can provide updates to their community.

Teachers also need time to process.  This requires understanding each learner as an individual as well as attending to group and community dynamics.  It means that plans need to be developed and implemented.  It means that they need to be looking at student work, providing feedback, and certifying mastery or competence.

In this new model, the building blocks for teachers become as follows:

  • Morning Meeting 
  • Individual Check-Ins 
  • Class Meetings 
  • Planning & Assessment
  • Teacher Team Meeting

While the distribution of these functions is going to vary by context and by the developmental levels of the students, these building blocks represent the general functions of a teacher in a home-learning environment.  For students, this provides for whole group time, individual check-ins for mentoring, and also flexible work blocks for playlists or projects.  

As an illustration, consider the following mock-schedule for a team of four teachers.  These could be four teachers who currently teach the same grade level (elementary) or four teachers from the same subject area (secondary).  What becomes clear in this example is that teams of teachers are going to be more responsive and can provide greater flexibility for learners than any one individual could possibly achieve.  

Sample Learner-Centered Coronavirus School Master Schedule – Team of 4 Teachers

BlockTeacher ATeacher BTeacher CTeacher D
7-8amMorning MeetingPlanning & Assessment
8-9amMorning MeetingIndividual Check-Ins
9-10amIndividual Check-InsMorning Meeting
10-11amIndividual Check-InsClass MeetingMorning Meeting
11-noonClass MeetingPlanning & Assessment
noon-1pmIndividual Check-InsClass Meeting
1-1:30pmTeacher Team Meeting
1:30-2:30pmClass MeetingIndividual Check-Ins
2:30-3:30pmPlanning & AssessmentIndividual Check-InsClass Meeting
3:30-4:30pmPlanning & AssessmentClass MeetingPlanning & Assessment
4:30-5:30pmClass MeetingPlanning & AssessmentPlanning & Assessment
5:30-6:30pmClass Meeting
6:30-7:30pmIndividual Check-Ins
7:30-8:30pmPlanning & AssessmentIndividual Check-Ins

I am hopeful that the same ingenuity and creativity that we’ve seen in the rapid shift to home learning will soon extend to how we configure time for students and for our educational professionals.  While every context is unique in many ways, we must reimagine schedules in order to sustain the heroic work of our educators.  By focusing on the new core functions of home learning and by embracing the power of teams, the opportunity ahead of us is to do so in a way that also better meets the unique needs of all learners.  

Do you have an example of a learner-centered master schedule for home learning? If so, please share using #LCLeadership 

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