Monday, August 24, 2015

17 yr Schedule Shift...

I just wrapped up a project with another school to help them analyze their master schedule. 

They have a 730am start time for students and end the academic day ends at 215pm. 

2 years of data showed that 37% of students in the school report in late in the morning... each week. Adjustments have been made to increase staff to handle these attendance issues. 

After a little analysis... just over 30% of students have commute times over 1 hour. 

Teachers routinely (100%) reported students are sluggish and unmotivated in the mornings. 

So... we took a preliminary, test the waters kind of poll on the current school schedule. 97% of the students wanted the school day to start later. We brought forth a lot of evidence that says that later start times are tremendously beneficial to adolescents. But we went further.

More polling revealed 94% of parents / guardians wanted school to start later. 

59% of the adults working in the building wanted school to start later. The number one reason the adults working in the school liked the early start time was... the 215pm dismissal time.

After a bit more analysis... I discovered they've had the same schedule, and the same lateness and truancy problems for 17 years. The schedule was changed 17 years ago, so I learned, to accommodate bus run synchronization with another district school. Turns out, the busing problem doesn't actually exist any longer as the district switched from their own busing to a transportation company 8 years ago.

Over the past 17 years, according to seven veteran teachers I spoke with, the school has had five principals and 6 committees - best they can remember- to analyze the school schedule. No changes were made during this 17 year period.


After the surveying and data analysis, discussions started in April, 2015. Based on feedback we solicited, I suggested starting school at 830am and ending at 3pm as a first step. 

We polled students, parents, and adults in school on the new start time. 96% overall were in favor of the change. 

In early May 2015 the administration and school board felt that changing the school schedule for the coming Fall (2015-2016) would be too disruptive and are 'considering a change' for the coming Fall semester in 2016-2017.

Slow growth, yes.... but if it changes, at least it's growth.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Growth Mindset... for schools?

A lot of growth mindset discussions center on the traits students and adults can develop. Especially at the start of a school year. Growth mindset vs fixed mindset. Lots of debate going on.

If we're asking individuals to develop a growth mindset, what about a 'growth mindset' for a school?

Is weaving students into some existing and traditional school structures prohibiting growth?

Here are a few ideas on how school and systems within can develop and practice a 'growth mindset.'

Create a common learning language and focal points
Does your school have a common set of learning values for each class? Here's one model form the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA.


Inquiry and project based learning... hands on, collaborative, interactive, project oriented. It's a mission to not only cover content, but make it meaningful and purposeful and social. What discussions is your school having on 'learning'?

Create meaningful teacher PD programs
Build PD time into the day rather than treat it as an add-on to the school day or the same old 'two days per semester' model. As Diana Laufenberg puts it eloquently, "Doing more, faster is not the answer."

Analyze the class / master schedule... and make changes
Analyze start time, breaks, class length, and flow from a student and adult perspective. Is your schedule working at it's best to promote student learning? How about student health? Is 'social time' built in or are you asking kids to sit quietly for long periods of time with very short breaks?

How does your schools schedule impact family life?

Discuss homework
Does your school have 'homework policies' in place?

Are deadlines on homework completion rigid or flexible?

Is homework dropped on students the day of, or is it advertised for the week so they can plan accordingly?

Dropping excessive amounts of homework on kids with rigid deadlines can be... punishing.

Here's why.

Kids who work? Not just the ones who do... but also the ones who need to work? 

How about it's effect on kids in extra-curricular sports?

Ever seen drama / theater programs practice / rehearsal schedules ramping up to a production?

How about kids with intensive family needs at home?

How about kids with any number or all of the above in tow?

A homework free-for-all can create chaos for kids. For kids in need it can be elitist. It can also promote pretty dangerous fatigue.

I've visited many schools where...

  • Homework is graded for understanding but not as a punishment. It's evaluated on a 'let's see what you didn't understand approach.' 
  • The amount of homework given to students is also analyzed constantly and discussed with teachers
  • Deadlines are flexible, usually with two-three days leeway.

All important discussions for adults in schools to discuss with students and parents.

A focus on 'rigor, discipline, process, and product'.. which translates into more homework with little thought to content or method can have terrible effects on students and families. Combine that mentality with rigid deadlines... well, it's an elitist model, and punishes far too many students.

Have a facilities overview and improvement plan... that keeps moving
Polish, patch, and paint. And keep doing it.

Remove clutter... constantly. Purge that old equipment cast to forgotten closets.

Get some inspiring artwork from students, adults, and professionals in the community up.

There's more to color in schools than 'institutional beige' and athletic colors... and more finishes available than high-gloss... or at least there should be ; )

Refit classrooms
Try removing clutter, reduce / relocate storage, and create more diverse and collaborative workspaces.

Get some color other than beige in the rooms. Try using more than one... a primary and accent color.

Here's an interesting prompt to start a debate. Does your school provide personal or department funds or resources for teachers to populate classrooms? Should teachers with more personal financial resources be able to decorate 'better' than a teacher who doesn't?

Want a pedagogical challenge as a teacher? Try removing the 'teacher desk' from the room... or at least the front of the room. Get up, get involved, sit with students, engage in debate at tables or groups.

Conjure a diverse technology program
Technology is expensive. At it's best... schools / districts will give kids full functional laptops with access to some powerful software connected to robust and creative programs and opportunities. If that's not possible... create a technology program that gives kids a device to access the web and to collaborate with. In all cases, create a program where kids can sign out equipment... laptops, cameras, etc for use.

It's too lengthy here to discuss all the nuances of a great 1-1 technology program, but there are many common traits of successful ones... and also those that are not very successful.

Build learning opportunities that connect to meaningful projects and community
Do students know much or get the opportunity to learn about the surrounding community? What needs in the community can be identified and brought into the school and turned into projects?

Make connections with experts outside the school
It's hard to admit the best expertise isn't always in the building. Seek parent help and from long-time locals and business owners to identify local expertise. Bring these experts in or visit them. Establish relationships that can help students and adults connect and explore. Connect with colleges and professionals.

There are a few ideas to get things moving. There are others... a robust advisory program, travel programs, hybrid classes... but we'll talk about those later on.


If we're asking individuals to grow, schools and their structures must do the same.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Will your school take the Student for a Day Challenge this Fall?

BBA Student for a Day Project from Adam Provost on Vimeo.

This morning I sent production notes to the 150th person who requested them on the Student for a Day project. After receiving them they emphatically sent me another note about how excited they are to run this project this Fall at their school. "I wish more schools would do this," they said.

Good idea.

So here it is... the 'Student for a Day Challenge.'

What if, this Fall, your school took on the 'Student for a Day' challenge where your teachers become 'Students for a Day'?

Do pre interviews, run time filming, and then post production interviews.

It'll raise some important questions and hopefully discussions on...

  • start time
  • transition times between classes
  • class length
  • school lunch experience
  • homework
  • attendance policies

... just to name a few.

How can the school schedule improve for kids? How about for families? What's the day look like through the eyes of a student? How do school policies (really) match up to common sense?

Put your structure, policy and master schedule to the test.

It's great development work for students and PD for adults. it'll open the door to important conversations.

Will your school take the 'Student for a Day Challenge?' this Fall?

Invite student inquiry into the educational process...

Never know what might turn up.

My sincere thanks to the folks who've helped spread the word on this by republishing over the years... journals, blogs, and ed folk! Let's see how far this will go!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

VPA Leaders Conference, June 25 2015

Get Things Moving: Theory Into Action Steps
VPA Leaders Conference
Berlin, VT

"Schools are often cultures of 'add.' Initiatives pile on, one after another until people reach the breaking point and the core mission and values begin to drift. 'Time in schools' can be reclaimed to unlock innovation and even, yes, promote civility!"

We want to move things forward in schools... but we often think and do things the same way. Business goes on, as usual, and things don't change. Many innovative changes are often an 'add' and they struggle to maintain motion.

Here are five ways below to start changes in motion. It'll build collaborative time, creative time, promote socialization, and start to unlock traditional barriers to innovation.

They're simple. They don't cost anything. They create motion you can build on.

Summary notes:

1. School Schedule: Unlocking PD. Included, not added

2. Master Schedule: Understanding the 'Student perspective'

3. Choice Time / Day / Interdisciplinary projects: Interdisciplinary, connecting

4. Advisory: Done well, it has many positive ripples

5. School lunch! We can do better

I've been helping many schools explore these threads and how they relate to their special circumstances. Here are some other posts called 'What Are We Teaching and Why? that will help conjure some ideas and debates!

Let me know if I can help!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Domestic Terrorism, A Hate Crime in Charleston, South Carolina

The shootings in Charleston, South Carolina were an act of domestic terrorism. They were a hate crime. Let's hope the modern media stops labeling this as simply a 'tragedy.' There's more to it.

Chris Lehmann puts it eloquently in his recent blog post:

"We can not afford, as a nation, to treat the continued hatred, prejudice, and violence against those who do not neatly fit into the dominant paradigm – racially, sexually, religiously – in this country as isolated incidents. To do so is to perpetuate the myth that there’s nothing anyone can do to stop the violence and make a better, more just, world."
"Today, I have tried to use social media to speak to the hurt and anger I feel, not because I think I have much to add, but simply because I want all SLA students and families — especially our African-American students — to know that I stand with them. In a moment of tragedy, I would never want any student — especially our African-American students — to have to question for a moment where I stood or if I cared. And I am writing this now in the hope that students know that I never think it is enough for me to exhort them to action, rather that they understand I, too, will use my voice to demand a world where being black no longer means fearing for your safety anywhere you go — even in sanctuary – in church."

As usual, Jon Stewart nails something our modern media refuses to acknowledge.

We must delve deeper into the worlds hate. We must expose it, speak up, and strive to change it. And we must do so relentlessly. More people need to speak up against the acts themselves, and how they are reported in the main.

As Stewart mentions, let's put a magnifying glass on South Carolina, who still flies the confederate flag, who still heralds the name of racists on it's roads and monuments. What could such an inquiry do to expose hatred and it's symbolism?

Speak up and challenge media outlets. Speak up at schools about this horrible crime. Believe you can make a difference by speaking up about it.

Friday, May 29, 2015

What are we teaching and why? Start overhauling tired learning spaces

Let's face it... there are some tired learning spaces out there. Education offices too.

Far too many are steeped in clutter, storage housing more clutter, bad lighting, and uncomfortable furniture all floating in old school / mental institution high gloss beige.

It's the hope that schools could look like spaces people actually want to be in and work in.

It would be great to build a new building... but don't wait. Start pulling together ideas and making small changes until the new dream building somehow, some way becomes a reality.

Understanding flow

I do understand designing around classroom flow. But...

What if there isn't a good flow in the classroom?

What if the space is so confining that 'flow' isn't possible?

What if the current space is all lecture driven?

I took the challenge myself in 2005 where I used to teach and have been helping teachers over the last 10 years refit / rejuvenate learning spaces and offices.

There are a few simple steps that can happen to change things in the right direction. Sometimes some simple changes can get things moving.

Move / eliminate that teacher desk!

Make the classroom peer learning centric rather than teaching centric.

This will be a good challenge to your work in teaching students. Sit with students. Sit in the back. Sit in the middle. Move about day to day and let the stage define itself.

Challenge yourself to get your teacher desk out of the front of the room. Challenge yourself to eliminate it altogether!

Remove clutter!

Remove 'stuff.' Get the shelves clean, get stuff off the floor, get it off tables and desks. Don't just put it somewhere else!

Toss it!

Identify what you 'need' from what you might want.

Get. Rid. Of. Stuff. You. Don't. Use.

Remove unnecessary storage!

I visited a classroom recently and the teacher mentioned they didn't have enough storage. When we went over what was being stored in the room... 90% of it was unnecessary as in never used or fell into that category "we might need this someday." The entire classroom was like a giant kitchen junk drawer. Students hated it, and sadly the person who taught in the room did too. We gutted the room and went minimalist, by moving essential and frequently used items into one cabinet. Classrooms should be work spaces not storage centers. Get that seldom used stuff out!


Make it a school effort. Ask students to help. Polish. Don't take no for an answer. Get the grime off the windows too!


Introduce a color palate... other than school athletic colors and institutional white, light blue, and... beige!


Stay away from high gloss. Win that argument. Make taking care of the walls a school priority.

Softer tones of... green, orange, yellow, blue can go a long way. Nature based color palates work extremely well. Take a look at the modern workspaces online like Google,, and some others. Get inspired to make some changes.

Accent walls. More than one color makes it interesting.

Develop a catalog of colors for the school. 20 colors?

Get teachers involved. Get rooms painted. 10 rooms per year could cost $2,000 - $3000.

How would new paint and a modern color palate change the 'feel' of your school?


Get some large whiteboards up to unpack ideas. Large sheets are easily mounted, easily framed and far, far less expensive than the expensive alternatives.

Many schools have whiteboards that are not used often. Find them and repurpose them into high use areas and spaces.

Multiple white boards in different spaces? Why not?

Get things moving

Convincing yourself and students that desks and tables can be moved around is very liberating. Circle one day, groups another. Many hands make light work.

The school as an art gallery... Start in rooms, then take on the building

Curate student art!

Get the art dept involved in displaying student work and get projects going with college and community artists to work with kids to add murals and shapes to walls. It's amazing what life this can breathe into tired old facilities.

Start down the furniture path

It's time. Get rid of these...

If you don't believe it... try becoming a student for a day.

It's expensive to change furniture. But it's also fun. New furniture can be moved to that new building you might build someday.

Best advice: Choose things that have great warranties and are comfortable.


Changes like this can lead to positive morale shifts. It can stir up pedagogy. It can stir up some innovation. It shifts energy. It gets people buying into the thought that "we can redesign our learning spaces."

We can face the reality that it doesn't take much money to reduce clutter, eliminate furniture, and paint!


Links to the full 'What Are We Teaching and Why? series:

8. Start overhauling tired learning spaces
7. #educolor and literary choices
6. Positive ripples of student choice
5. Common roadblocks
4. Student pursuing their interests
3. The Other Math
2. Rethinking Math Requirements
1. AP Classes

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

What are we teaching and why: #educolor and literary choices

At long last, I've been looking through notes from #EduCon 2015 in January, and recently on a session facilitated by Jose Vilson and Rafranz Davis (filling in for Audrey Watters) called The Privileged Voices in Education. The discussion turned in that session toward something I've been discussing in schools for some time...

If you look over a standard high school literary curriculum you'll find...

  • Romeo and Juliet
  • Macbeth
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • Of Mice and Men
  • Julius Ceasar
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Lord of the Flies
  • The Scarlet Letter
  • Hamlet
  • The Great Gatsby

One thing stands out... they are great books.

Two more things do too... they are authored by white (1) men (2).

As I researched this more around the web it's been written about a lot and discussed a lot. Many have posted variances of that list.

What I'm not finding though are a lot of schools that have shifted from this predominately white centric literary practice.

Don't get me wrong, they are great books. But... what if we helped many more students identify with a wider, more diverse array of authors as part of required courses and not electives?

What if we...

  • Required a few less of these 'traditional' readings
  • Required more ethnic and gender diversity
  • Encouraged more teacher and student choice by 'what resonates'

and we asked for...

  • more reading and reflective discussions on topics of social justice?

Here are a few examples I've seen some schools require as I've looked about:

  • Not Without Laughter, Langston Hughes
  • Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, Langston Hughes
  • Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
  • House of Spirits, Isabella Allende
  • Chronicle of Death Foretold, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • The Famished Road, Ben Okri
  • America is in the Heart, Carlos Bulosan
  • The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
  • If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, Italo Calvino
  • Makes me Wanna Holler, Nathan McCall
  • For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf, Notzake Shange
  • Assata, Assata Shakur
  • Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I'd love to hear recommendations for others to include in this list.

I've had many discussions on this over the years. Some say that more diversity should be introduced into 'the classics.' Some others say that classics should stay as is and another course should be required introducing more diversity.

I feel like the latter is, once again, an add.

There's got to be a better balance.

Traditions often get in the way of need.

from The Transition Network, Washington, DC

My upbringing consisted of mostly white, male authors. I did learn some great lessons there with the encouragement of some very good teachers. Star Trek, the original show, was the first shift to introduce any diversity discussions into my life. From there I challenged myself to step outside that mostly white, and male writer genre was I able to see the world in far broader terms.

It's time for more discussions in education on white privilege, racism, hate, oppression, and gender equity and the call toward social justice.

Perhaps this is a good way toward these conversations, and perhaps not. I'd love to hear your ideas.

So... is your school having discussions on this topic? Are you / is your school rethinking the time we spend on traditional 'classics?'' How is your school promoting more discussions on diversity, social justice in literacy? 

What if more schools truly made greater strides to promote diversity... beyond Martin Luther King Day, and 'Black History Month?' What if promoting social justice was a core value in schools?

It's tough for some schools and teachers to take this on. Its uncomfortable. It requires discussions that are open, honest, challenging... and ongoing. And that's just what we need.

I certainly don't feel like I don't have the answers... but I'm getting involved more deeply in the discussion and hoping got push ideas forward.

If you have references for places / people who've changed this practice, please do send them my way. Add a comment to this post or send me an email. I'd love to speak with them.


Links to the full 'What Are We Teaching and Why? series:

8. Start overhauling tired learning spaces
7. #educolor and literary choices
6. Positive ripples of student choice
5. Common roadblocks
4. Student pursuing their interests
3. The Other Math
2. Rethinking Math Requirements
1. AP Classes