Last year I completed a project at Royal Oak Middle School in Royal Oak, Michigan. Faced with declining resources a group of teachers, administrators and parents were asked to resolve a perennial middle school problem---how to reduce the total number of minutes of planning time so that distinct individual and team plan times did not exist, and at the same time, continue their exemplary interdisciplinary teaming model.
It was a tough problem with serious implications for both teacher workload and the student day. However, people of good will find a way to persevere and meet the challenge.
I worked with the group to agree upon norms of collaboration, to review the research, to identify priorities, and to develop several alternatives. Balancing competing priorities proved to be the most difficult task.
Over time agreement emerged on a strategy. The length of the school day remained the same but the day consisted of six rather than seven classes. Each class was approximately 75 minutes long. Longer classes provided teachers with additional instructional time, particularly important in language arts and math. Teams continued to be part of the program at each grade level.
Teachers have one daily planning period of 75 minutes (375 minutes weekly). That provides 250 minutes for individual planning and an additional 125 minutes for team planning.
A unique feature of the schedule was addition of a seminar period at the beginning of the day. This period will include several interest-based electives, time for remediation, and allow scheduling of some cross-grade elective classes.
Most importantly, the group reached consensus on the model. Striving for consensus was a powerful indicator of the goodwill everyone brought to the discussion. Consensus almost always assures a successful implementation of any recommendation.
Royal Oak continues to struggle with declining resources and they continue to search for a way to balance their collective commitment to a high quality education with the financial reality faced by the district.
My book Scheduling to Improve Student Learning offers other tips on dealing with complex and contentious scheduling issues. It is available from the National Middle School Association.