Rethinking the traditional school schedule

Keep students centered in the conversation

rethinking the traditional school scheduleWhen it becomes time to talk about scheduling you can often feel the tension rise as everyone’s values and beliefs are put on the table in the attempt to make everyone happy.

In many cases the term “everyone” often refers to adults and omits what works best for students.

The intent of this post is to offer some guiding questions and lenses to think through, that can help folks expand the range of what is possible within your schools context, while better meeting the needs of young adolescents. They’re meant to give some structure to scheduling conversations so that they’re hopefully easier to grapple with while firmly centering the needs of students.

Resources for rethinking the traditional school schedule

  • So what do we know about adolescents? This We Believe, published by the National Middle School Association, has provided to be a great guide in educating adolescents.
  • The Vermont Educational Quality Standards aims to provide equity and ensure high quality opportunities for all students.
  • Act 77 challenges the Vermont landscape to continue to push the personalization of learning and allow for flexible pathways to achieving learning targets.
  • Middle School is Not a Building speaks to student-centered practiced that allow for engagement, voice, collaboration, and inquiry.


  • In terms of process I would offer that it be extremely transparent to all stakeholders. It is amazing how quickly rumors can spread or take focus off the task at hand.
  • Allow for input. What’s works? What would you like to do differently? etc
  • Identify values and beliefs about students and learning. I suggest putting these at the top of working documents.
  • Determine your known knowns. What faculty and staff do we have, rooms and spaces, constraints to consider (not necessary honor).
  • Build a schedule that works for students!

Easy, right?

Guiding questions

  • Does the schedule allow for personalization?
    • Student choice and voice
  • Does the schedule allow for student to access learning outside of the school?
    • Flexible learning times & locations
  • Does the schedule allow for large blocks of time that can be used based on needs as they arise?
    • Interdisciplinary units, team or co-teaching.
  • Does the schedule foster a sense of family and community?
  • Does the schedule include an advisory or advisory type period of time?
  • Does the schedule honor the values and beliefs of the school?
  • Does the schedule allow for — or even encourage — student and teacher collaboration?
  • Does the schedule encourage supportive relationships?

rethinking the traditional school scheduleThe time is now to engage in these scheduling conversations. Although in recent times there have been many new rules, policies, faces, and directions, Best Practices in the Middle Level Education (pdf) has remained a guiding beacon incorporating many of these concepts before they were rules or laws.

Additionally, the license to do something different, to allow the needs of students to drive incorporating flexibility in multiple areas of our schools, has never been stronger. I would encourage everyone to look that this challenge as an opportunity.

I think Spicoli said it best in Fast Times at Ridgemont High: “Technically, this is our time.” A movie — say it with me — before its time.

Photo credit: “An iconic public school clock is packed away”, by Bill Healy, WBEZ


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