The Value of Time

I’ve spent the past several months trying to figure out how to create more time in the day. Since I’m still here and not living the life of an idle billionaire on an island in the tropics, it seems safe to assume that I haven’t managed it.
The reason we are shaking the school day upside down, hoping some extra minutes will fall out of the seams of its pockets, is because time is perhaps the most valuable academic resource—and also the hardest to get. Thinking about where and how we spend our time is one of the most important decisions an educational institution can make. At the same time1, more time in the classroom isn’t necessarily the same thing as more student achievement. As we begin to emerge from the challenges of the last two years, it’s particularly important to think about how our schedule can be attentive to both the academic and social needs of our students2.
There have been a lot of studies in the past two decades about how we might revolutionize the school day—block schedules, four-day weeks, longer school hours, later start times, shorter classes, drop schedules, virtual options—you name it, they’ve studied it. And the truly fascinating thing is that there aren’t any clear answers. There isn’t a school schedule that is clearly the best. There are benefits to a number of them, but the upshot of all of the research on daily schedules is that there is no one perfect schedule; what scheduling requires is for schools to define priorities and objectives and then develop a schedule that suits those particular needs.
After a great deal of data collection—ISACS surveys, the VSN survey, internal surveys—we’ve been able to identify some of our internal priorities and are thinking about how to shift the daily schedule to meet the needs of our community. We’ve also taken to heart the advice of all of the many and multitudinous educational researchers who have analyzed schedules and measured outcomes: the perfect schedule is the schedule that works best for our community3.
To that end, we’re going to try some things out in April to give our Middle School and Upper School students and faculty a sense of what different schedule elements might feel like. We’ll be asking for feedback on these elements and making decisions based on the needs of our community. We’ll be giving you more specific information about what our schedule element sampler will look like later in the month, but we’re excited to build a better rhythm of daily life.
1 I’m going to be groaning about that inadvertent pun later today; I invite you to join me.
2 To put it another way, kids need time to be kids—even the teenagers—and you don’t get the best learning out of people who are stressed seventeen ways to Sunday anyway.
3 I can’t help but think that there’s an analogy to various monastic orders and their different cycles of daily offices. There isn’t one that is the perfect one that God wants more than others; there are just different ways to structure daily life based on the needs and aims of different communities.
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