Teachers have been tinkering with how to use time and space since they were managing kids in one room schoolhouses centuries ago. I’ve always found that the more latitude teachers have to organize time and manage space, the more they get right -- how to personalize learning so each student can make measurable progress, how to make learning relevant to inspire the intrepid and keep the squirmiest engaged, how to reset the mood. (Can we agree that whoever invented recess was the best teacher of all time?)
Somewhere between regionally organized village schools, Thomas Jefferson’s idea that white boys should be educated, and Horace Mann’s plan for free public education, the schedule was largely taken out of the hands of the teachers. We make choices so we can scale, but COVID-19 brought centuries of largely unchanged school schedules to a screeching halt.
We shouldn’t go back. We should seize this moment to rethink time and space.
More than ever, independent schools have to work within constraints ranging from resource and staff shortages to physical plant, transportation, and enrollment challenges. We have the additional challenge of the increasing number of families who would enroll “if only you had... [fill in esoteric program of your choice].” "To respond to external demands, schools have attempted to cram more into their schedule: more arts, more athletics, more SEL, more advanced coursework. The density of these demands translates into an increasingly inflexible schedule for students, faculty, and staff.
Let’s do a little thought exercise: Grab a piece of scratch paper and jot down what you missed most about your school community during COVID-19 distance learning. Now pull out your weekly schedule grid and highlight just those things. Wander over to the break room and find a colleague; ask them, “What if we redesigned our schedule around just these things?” Sure, school is about classes, but the most meaningful time together happens when we share space as a community.
Having deja vu? We’ve dabbled in rethinking time and space before. This idea definitely harkens back to the best of block scheduling, project-based learning, and the flipped classroom stuff of the mid-2000s. Why weren’t those disruptive innovations? Because we built yet another cinder block schedule grid and then poured the most important community activities into the crevices that were left over. Let’s not do that anymore. Build time and space for growth, exploration, kindness, wellness. Today, unlike any time since one-room schoolhouses, schools have the tools and partners to make courses work with less time and in less constrained spaces. Let’s start with recess.
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Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)