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A Time For Everything

June 10, 2016

Over the past few days, I’ve been working with my admin colleagues on creating the timetable for our High School for the next school year. I’ve gone through this process before at smaller schools so working on this at a large High School was really eye opening. We are a large high school offering many sections of different courses. But, we aren’t large enough for automated scheduling systems to be effective. So, much of the work was done by “hand.” But the entire process has left me thinking about schedules in general.

Timetables have been a component of formalized schooling for as long as formalized schools have existed. Some would argue that the timetable was a reflection of the workforce the students would join upon completion of their formal schooling. This may be the case but I would suggest a more simple reason timetables exist – order. It would be very difficult to organize hundreds of students and staff without some kind of schedule. Of course this goes further in many jurisdictions where education funding is tied to instructional hours, which timetables help to achieve. But, for those of us looking to change education, should we not look to the timetable as a method to elicit change.

I am honest in my perspective about education – I see myself in the progressive camp most days. As such, I look for ways we can organize our schools and classrooms differently than in the past, and ensure we meet the needs of the students and promote their academic and social success. As such, it would seem to me the timetable would be a place to look at for changes. I would argue that, historically (and probably currently), timetables were created to meet the needs of the adults in the building, not the students. Administrators create timetables which meet the requested needs of teaching staff and then fit students into the blocks. What if we looked at that differently? Can students design the timetable? I’m not sure if that is completely possible but I do think they can have a role.

If teachers, students, and administrators looked at times where students felt more successful in certain classes, perhaps we could construct the timetable to reflect those situations. For example, when I taught Grade 12 English right after lunch, many of my students had difficulty focusing. So, I asked them why. They told me they were tired after eating lunch – now, something could be said about teenage choices for lunch, but that’s another post. They often requested that they have P.E. or some other more active course rather than a difficult academic offering. So, if we looked across the board at courses and gathered data about times when the majority of our students were successful, perhaps we could use the timetable to capitalize on this.

Another consideration that I would like to see more of is blended and online learning incorporated into the timetable. Our students in High School have a flex period which would be perfect for this to take place. Students could take courses through Alberta Distance Learning or other locally developed online courses during this period. In that way, we could provide more opportunities for our students and promote flexibility in their schedule.

This seems like a pretty mundane topic but, after five days of creating a timetable, it is on my mind! I would really like to hear other perspectives of timetabling and thoughts on how it can positively, or negatively, impact learning.

Have a great Friday everyone!


One Comment
  1. Sean,

    Timetabling was always one of those things that I loved/hated as an administrator. I agree that timetabling is a place to look if there is going to be change. However, without making a change in the requirements for graduation, the curriculum hours/expectations or some of the other fixtures of present timetables, it becomes a case of puttering not renovating. I agree that you should ask Ss what they would like to see in a timetable – what are some of the things that would help them to be more engaged – the PE right after lunch is a good example but, if it’s anything like when I was timetabling, there are only so many periods for PE that take place after lunch & only so many PE teachers. The same can be said of all the other courses/periods. Some students aren’t morning people (actually many HS students aren’t morning people!). We know that Ss function better later in the day – there is research. Yes having blended courses is something that should be part of the landscape for students – they will need to develop those skills for learning through some form of blended situation sometime in their lives.

    As you and I have discussed briefly, there is room for making some changes – why not allow for more blended options or flex time for students? How can there be more freedom for students to select courses? How can there be a variety of offerings that begin to move away from the “classics”? Is there any way to get universities to begin to change their acceptance requirements? Can we at least have a discussion – and not with the ministry but with teachers. Let’s have the actual people involved sit down and talk. Bring some students along. Maybe a few parents.

    There are many changes that are taking place yet schools seem to be stuck hashing out the same things over and over. Like you, I’d like to see something change so that my 7 year old son who is in grade 1 has a DIFFERENT learning experience that his oldest sister that graduate six years ago and is now a photo journalist – a job that ‘traditional’ school didn’t quite prepare her for. I expect to see changes yet, as each year passes, very little does change. Except the people outside of education arguing about what schools need to change.

    Keep asking those questions. Keep challenging the borders and seeing what happens when you bounce things around at the edges. Our kids deserve it! Thanks for doing what you do!

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