To a casual observer, it may appear inconsequential that, for the 2018-2019 school year, the length of Shore’s schoolwide academic cycle went from ten days to seven. But according to Upper School Spanish teacher Pamela Torres and fifth grade homeroom teacher David Lund, who worked together to create the new schedule after months of internal research and consultation with industry experts, that seemingly small change could bring big benefits in the day-to-day experience of Shore students.
Up until the 2017-2018 school year, Shore observed an academic cycle whose structure was devised more than a decade earlier. The school year was divided into ten-day cycles—alternating five-day “A” and “B” weeks in the Upper School, and repeating five-day weeks in the Lower. This schedule was designed to accommodate the larger number of part-time faculty Shore employed at the time, and was structured to align with the five-day work week familiar to parents.
However, according to Torres and Lund, most independent schools in recent years have moved away from this type of schedule, which requires short class periods and can force wide scheduling variations from day to day. In addition, they explain, in an academic cycle aligned with the calendar week, too often holidays and conference days that fall on Fridays or Mondays disproportionately impact some classes more than others, reducing already constrained teaching time for important subjects. These combined pressures tend to make the school experience more frantic and stressful for both students and teachers, limit the space available for non-classroom activities such as music rehearsals and advisory, and inadvertently increase homework load because of unforeseen scheduling pile-ups.
Today, best practice among independent schools calls for a six- or seven-day cycle, which not only avoids these pitfalls, but also ensures that every major subject receives about the same amount of instructional time per year. This is a key goal in the model of “student-centered scheduling” recommended by leading educators as well as ISM
(Independent School Management), the consulting firm that Shore worked with to devise its new cycle of seven numbered days that governs the whole school.
There were a number of goals in making Shore’s academic schedule more student-centered, say Torres and Lund. One, of course, was equalizing instructional time across major subjects and removing constraints on non-classroom activities. Two, explains Torres, was reducing stress. “We wanted to give kids more consistency day-to-day than in the old schedule.” For example, she says, “In the Lower School students now begin every day with their Morning Meeting, and in the Upper School the first period starts at 8:00 a.m. all seven days. Things are just more predictable.”
Predictability isn’t just a “nice-to-have,” Torres explains. It’s closely related to addressing broader concerns about student stress and anxiety, which are inextricably tied to any discussion about scheduling. Large volumes of research have now demonstrated that stress and anxiety directly impact students’ ability to be successful in school. “The way we design our schedule has everything to do with how the pace of school affects student learning and well-being,” Torres says. One outcome of implementing a seven-day cycle was opening up more advisory periods, allowing students additional opportunities to spend quality time with their peers and their advisor. “Recess time also went up in the Upper School,” adds Torres, another way students get more space to recharge, both mentally and emotionally, throughout the day.
Meanwhile, in the Lower School, says David Lund, adjusting the schedule created “breathing room” for both students and teachers. “Adding two days to the existing five-day rotation means Morning Meeting and Closing Circle”—touchstones in Shore’s social-emotional curriculum—“now fit into the structure of every day for all grades in the Lower School.” The extended cycle also helps meet another major scheduling goal: offering more instructional time in Spanish for Lower School students. In addition, explains Lund, “We gained the ability to place Spanish and music back-to-back, with both of those special-subject teachers located next door to each other in the Center for Creativity.” This change takes pressure off homeroom teachers, giving them a larger block of time for their own planning and lesson preparation.
Similarly, in the Upper School, adds Torres, the new schedule allows back-to-back grouping of subjects such as English and history, so that teachers can more easily work together and create continuity in their cross-disciplinary units. “Eighth Hour,” the homework period slotted in at the end of the school day in the old schedule, also moved to a new position, in the middle of the day. Torres explains, “What we now call the ‘Extra Help’ period happens earlier, when students can work more effectively, instead of the end of the day, when they’re tired and less able to make the most of that time to get a head start on homework.”
With so many benefits, the new seven-day schedule has been enthusiastically received in both Upper and Lower School classrooms. “Kids are noticing they have more time with their advisor and at recess,” says Torres. “Homeroom teachers are happier, too,” adds Lund, “with things like P.E. and reading groups scheduled consistently every day.” While parents and teachers continue to adjust to several changes brought about by the new schedule—for example, House meeting occurs on Day 7 of every cycle, not on the same day each calendar week—students, naturally resilient and adaptable, are sailing along, observe Torres and Lund.
Most importantly, they say, Shore’s schedule now more closely aligns with its mission, in which academic challenge lives side-by-side with creativity, health, compassion, and valuing diversity and the world. “The new schedule gives us more time for the arts, more time for world language, more time to take care of our students and ourselves—it addresses every point in our mission,” Torres says.
As for challenge, she observes, “One ISM researcher has said, ‘Fun is not the enemy of challenge; it is its fuel.’” In other words, to be challenging, school must be fun for students; for it to be fun, it must be challenging for them. In this formulation, fun must be understood through students’ eyes. When young people are asked what they think is “fun” about school, they identify experiences in which they get to be active, work with their peers, do what they’re passionate about, and become better at something. In Shore’s new student-centered schedule, Torres explains, there is more room for all of these experiences. “When we look at the schedule through this lens of ‘fun,’ we see the gains across the board.”