Randolph's Daily Schedule: The Holy Grail

Posted by bhulsey - 15 November, 2012

Beyond the teachers and students who make up a school community, nothing is more important than the daily schedule.  How we organize time in schools should reflect the mission, educational philosophy, and expectations we have for student growth and development.  The goal is for Randolph to create a schedule true to our vision to be a community of learners devoted to preparing students for their future rather than our past.

Consistent with the priorities of our current strategic plan, we expect that a new schedule will underscore our commitment to life-changing personal relationships, provide for faculty collaboration, and encourage balanced student engagement in all areas of the School’s mission.   As we approach full enrollment on both campuses, we seek a schedule which is financially sustainable and that supports balanced lives for our students and faculty.  Middle School Division Head Polly Robb and her team of faculty from each division have led the charge internally to explore viable options for the 2013-2014 school year, and though much remains to be done, I know we are on a path to meaningful and lasting change designed to make Randolph an even better school.

Three weeks ago we crossed another threshold when we hosted Roxanne Higgins, President and Senior Consultant with Independent School Management (ISM) on campus.   ISM is the industry leader in this area, serving only private-independent schools, and Roxanne has conducted 187 similar assessments at schools across the country over the past 12 years.  In short, ISM and Roxanne know this business.  Considering the dimensions of time, people, space and program, Roxanne interviewed teachers, students, parents, and administrators at Randolph to develop schedule options driven by student needs.

Grounded in research on 21st century learning, Roxanne’s recommendations included not only sample schedules for our consideration, but also a number of very helpful programming recommendations that stem from best practices.  What we did not receive from Roxanne, however, is “the answer.”  Every schedule involves compromise, and we are left to consider the many recommendations and priorities for change, and to determine the optimal schedule to maximize the teaching and learning climate that is uniquely ours.  With a focus on investing in the best preparation of our students for success in college and life, we are moving ahead to identify and adopt a schedule for the next school year.

This work is on-going, and we should have our scheduling plans in place by late January. Our administrators and faculty are carefully reviewing the many recommendations and establishing priorities to establish not only a daily schedule, but also the yearly calendar that best supports our goals.  There is much to be done, but we have established a number of assumptions to guide our work over the next few weeks.  These assumptions include:

  • We will have a baseline of 165 full instructional days (up from, by Roxanne’s calculation given our sometimes choppy calendar, 154 in our current schedule).
  • We will not add days to the school year, but will discuss how to repurpose existing days in the annual calendar to ensure 165 instructional days.
  • We will strive for consistency between divisions by strongly considering the adoption of the same cycle/rotation across the K-12 spectrum.  A cycle might include, for instance, a rotation of classes that do not meet every day but do meet for longer stretches of time.
  • We will take significant and predictable time for faculty collaboration and professional growth and renewal, recognizing that our teachers are our greatest resource and that investment in their growth and development and in time for collaboration are essential to ensure the best learning climate for our students.
  • We will limit the time students can be on campus on non-game days or performance nights, recognizing the importance of balance in a student’s life.
  • We do not anticipate any immediate material facilities changes or unanticipated increases in personnel.

School scheduling is both an art and a science and it should change over time.  Randolph’s Middle and Upper School schedules resemble what’s been in place in the United States since the early 20th century, when the Industrial Revolution encouraged Americans to divide time into smaller and smaller portions consistent with assembly line training and rote memorization.  The Information Age has changed that landscape, and while content acquisition still matters, it is far more important that students learn how to manage, interpret, and derive meaning from the facts that are now in abundance at the push of a button.  This kind of deep learning takes time, and is pushing us to consider longer class periods that meet less frequently.

Educator Will Richardson, in his newest book, Why School?: How Education Must Change When Learning and Information are Everywhere, notes the importance of 21st century literacies.  He suggests that schools invest less in transmission of information for success on a standardized test, and instead value the discovery and creativity that is imbedded in Randolph’s mission.  The new environment, Richardson holds, “shifts from content mastery to learning mastery.  That means students have more ownership in their own learning, using their access to knowledge and teachers to create their own unique paths to the outcomes that we, and they, deem important.”

This is what it means to prepare students for their future, and I strongly believe that we are called upon to help our students become their own meaning makers.  That’s my essential hope for our new schedule, and my belief in what matters most in the lives of our students as they greet the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century and a flatter and more dynamic world.

Topics: learning, professional growth, schedule, Head of School, cognitive growth, Community of Learners

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