How to reorganize the school day when buildings reopen

Consider adjustments to the daily bell schedule, staff time and academic programming
By: | March 25, 2020
Some educators are sharing ideas for rearranging the school day schedule to better support teaching and learning.Some educators are sharing ideas for rearranging the school day schedule to better support teaching and learning.

Shifting school start times continues to generate headlines, but some educators say the entire school schedule can be reorganized to better support teaching and learning.

Administrators can consider adjustments to the daily bell schedule, staff time and academic programming, according to a new report and survey from Unlocking Time, an educator group that provides resources for reorganizing school.

The survey found that 74% of classes are less than an hour long, 72% of secondary schools still run on a traditional day of between five and eight periods, and 95% of administrators use late start or early dismissal to provide collaboration time for teachers.

Flex-time & virtual learning days

Changing the bell schedule may be one way to close achievement gaps, the organization suggests.


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Administrators could create flex-time periods that allow students to do catch-up work in areas where they’re struggling.

To break away from the traditional school day, the organization offers a library of schedule alternatives, such as a modified block rotating periods.

Educators can also use regular formative assessments to regroup students by their current progress, and then focus on tailored, smaller group instruction.

As for when school starts and ends, Unlocking Time notes that, because most school days don’t align with child care and transportation availability, administrators have an opportunity to leverage time when students cannot be at home.

This could allow administrators to add class periods to provide students with more choices or lengthen the school day to extend learning time.


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And while school schedules generally cater to students’ needs to meet learning standards, administrators should also consider how to make more room for teachers to collaborate and share new ideas.

Leaders can, for instance, have students in the same grade take specialized classes at the same time so teachers from that grade level can meet. Administrators should also invite teachers to help design the master schedule so time can be found for collaboration.

Virtual learning days are another option for creating more collaboration time.

It’s not about convenience

In his keynote speech at this year’s Future of Education Technology Conference®, best-selling author and productivity expert Daniel Pink called reorganizing school schedules a logistical and a pedagogical issue—particularly for high school students who would benefit greatly from later start times.


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High school students perform better when classes start sometime after 8:30, but they also learn better earlier in their school day, Pink said.

Learning dips in the middle of the day, and then rebounds. Creative subjects, such as music, arts and theater, should, therefore, take place later in the day when the students are inclined toward looser, more open-ended thinking.

“We have to be much more deliberate and intentional in the when of school,” Pink said. “The schedule isn’t about convenience—it’s about learning.”