Monday, January 21, 2013

What Story Does Your Timetable Tell?

Start at 8:30.  Four blocks per day, frozen schedule.  80 minutes each. Nutrition break in the mid morning.  50 minute lunch.  End sometime around 3.  Monday to Friday.  Change courses at the end of January.

Start at 8:55.   9 periods per day, tumbling schedule.  45 minutes each.  Long break after third period.  Lunch after the 5th.  Gone at 3:30.  Change courses at the end of the year.

Start at 8:35.  Two periods per day, 2 hours and 35 minutes each.  Break half way through each period.  One hour lunch.  Gone at 3:20.  Change courses in November, January, and April.


I am sure that there are other permutations of the high school schedule, and others of elementary and middle schools, but I would guess that most timetables out there don't look too terribly different than one of these.  And tonight, I was reflecting on what each of our timetables tell us and our school communities about the priorities of our schools.  As I have blogged about in the last couple of weeks, we are going to be examining the structures in our school, and starting to confront some of the (artificial?) constructs that might exist in our own system.  But in thumbing through my latest educational must-read, Making Teamwork Meaningful by Bill Ferriter (@plugusin), I came across a very useful reproducible called What Are Our Scheduling Priorities that I am going to use with our staff.  This two-pager is partitioned into a few different sections:
What I like about this form is that it includes priorities, non-negotiables, and a reflection piece for me to understand better how some of our faculty might perceive our non-negotiables and perhaps have suggestions that might make them easier to understand and work with.  In Learning by Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work, Rick Dufour talks about the concept of "loose-tight management", in which we are "tight" on our non-negotiable principles but "loose" on the methods by which we might accomplish those principles.  Because I am a firm believer in the research and the concepts of the Professional Learning Community, there are a couple of non-negotiables for me that I need to clearly articulate to our staff as the Principal of our school:
  1. We must have time within our timetable for our staff to work in collaborative, interdependent groups that continuously reflect on our practices with the goal of improving student and educator achievement
  2. We must have time within our timetable that allows teachers to differentiate so students can receive additional time and support to meet the collaboratively determined outcomes of our courses.
  3. We must have time that allows our students to be self-directed so that they may have a stake in and take responsibility for their own learning.
  4. We must have invitational and directive times to support our intervention system.
Our current timetable accommodates each of these priorities.  We have weekly collaborative time for our teachers.  Thanks to two teachers at our school who contacted staff at Rick Dufour's former school, Adlai Stevenson, we have a study block built in to third period each day that teachers can use at their discretion to have students accelerate or slow down in their courses, or catch up on their studies in other courses.  We have directed Academic Intervention that takes place each day after school for those students that need additional time to meet their outcomes.  And we have both directive and invitational time for our students to get targeted, subject-specific supports in their classes.  (A description of what we do is in this screencast).

However, there are issues that we need to look at.  Are these timetable modifications meeting our needs?  Our students needs?  In the development of our dynamic School Improvement Plan two years ago, we surveyed a sample of our students and staff (see down the left margin) so we could make good decisions about what we were doing and get some feedback on how the structures were working, but it's time to do it again.  Today, we met with our Department Coordinators and worked on the Google Survey to make sure that the questions are going to give us the information that we need to prepare for our PLC Structures Review in March, not only from a staff perspective, but from the student point of view as well.

But what I am most excited about is to work with the staff on possibilities.

Along with our structures that we want to support student and teacher achievement, can we introduce more flexibility to our timetable so that students can be more engaged in their learning?  Is there a way that we can examine the number of mandatory versus flexible periods for students in a week dependent on how they are doing, what supports they need, and their own learning interests?  Today, I got into contact with Grant Frend, (@GrantFrend) Principal at Garibaldi Secondary School about unique timetables.  He pointed me to the Alberta High School Flexibility Enhancement Pilot Project, an initiative that has the potential to set a gold standard for the use of a timetable to maximize student engagement and achievement.  I am truly excited at the ideas that are here, and can't wait to share them with my own staff to spark even more thoughts about what can work for our school.

And once we are complete, I hope that our timetable tells a significant part of the story about the priorities of our school.

What story does your timetable tell?


  1. Thanks Cale - what an excellent format, and good questions to be asking. Over my career I think no topic has created more excitement on staff as the timetable - usually a linear vs. semester debate, and of course, we have usually spent our time asking the wrong questions.

  2. Cale

    Another excellent post! I see many parallels in your school's current structures to those here at our school. Like you, I am starting to think about the need for more flexibility and choice. One of the vehicles for this change that I am currently thinking about is delivery of curriculum - from isolated silos to a more integrated approach - across all curricular lines - perhaps giving all stakeholders the necessary "why" and impetus for changing the current timetable.

    Any thoughts?

  3. Hey Cale,

    I agree with the above comments - especially with "" when it's stated, "no topic has created more excitement on staff as the timetable." We are in the midst of this very discussion in our district. We have been looking at the Delta District where they have worked closely with their stakeholder groups and have timetabled in teacher collaboration every 2 weeks. In this model, students are out of the building and teachers meet, on a variety of topics, for an hour.

    We are visiting Delta Feb 1 to discuss their evolution of their timetable and their plethora of academies. Our hope is to continue to offer the most "open-concept" of learning so that student engagement is maximized. Since students' needs and wants are ever-changing, the structures that support this goal should follow suit.

    Something is amiss if the structures are more important than the students.

    Thanks for this opportunity, Cale and others.

    John Brisebois

  4. Hey Pal,

    First, just wanted you to know that I miss hearing from you! Starting to worry about you considering I never "see" you anymore.

    Second, thanks for sharing this bit. Not only am I jazzed that my handout "looked right" to you, I'm jazzed that you pointed out a few other scheduling resources that people can explore.

    All too often, we get stuck in the notion that the schedule we have is the schedule we are stuck with. That's just not true.

    Hope you're well -- and hope we "cross paths" sooner rather than later!

    Rock on,

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