Monday, October 7, 2013

Rethinking the Structure of Your School

The structure of the school day can either support your learning program or be an impediment to its success. Too often we think of the school schedule, and other organizational arrangements, as merely a "fact of life." We take them for granted. But, in reality, they are useful tools for helping a school leader make their school a powerful place for learning. Here are a few things to consider.

  • A common way to promote collaboration in elementary school is to locate classrooms of the same grade together. Teachers can work with one another, share materials and support the work. But in one elementary school I visited each wing contained a classroom from each grade level. This arrangement provided for interaction among the grades and eased grouping and regrouping for instruction.
  • Many middle schools, and some high schools, organize teachers into instructional teams, a group of teachers who share students and have common planning time. Teams do not magically achieve results but when teachers use the majority of their common plan to work on curricular and instructional issues it can have a positive impact on student learning and school climate.
  • Some large schools organize into schools-within-a-school. Teachers often have common planning and time to work on instructional improvement. There's real evidence that small schools can positively impact student learning and sustain positive relationships among students and with adults.
  • One high school I visited in suburban Chicago reorganized departmental offices. Math and science teachers shared an office and their classrooms were adjacent. Similarly, language arts and social studies teachers shared an office and adjacent classrooms. The principal found that proximity created opportunities for teachers to learn from one another and to build relationships, relationships that led to interdisciplinary activities across content areas.

Too often the focus of a school's schedule is on the logistics of the day. More important is to take time to create a shared vision of what your schedule might achieve. Clarity about vision and purpose means that you can design a schedule to achieve that vision. Otherwise your schedule is merely a plan for the organization of students and teachers.

I'd enjoy hearing from you about the structure of your school and how you use structure to positively impact student learning.

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