Reinventing the Traditional School Day: Three Inspirational Models
July 16th, 2019
The best teachers in your school district are likely encouraging your students to follow this critical key to success: Be creative. Innovate. Forget what you know, and what has been done before and create something new. The foundation of this article aims to inspire school leaders and superintendents to do the same. Across the nation, schools and school districts are reinventing the school day. They are forgetting conventions, testing theories, and experimenting with new modalities, all in an attempt to produce the highest quality student outcomes. Read on to learn why you may want to do the same, and get inspired by these four proven-successful case studies from schools across the country.
How a Reimagined School Day Can Benefit Teacher Performance and Student Outcomes
You already know that teachers are critical to student academic outcomes. You also understand that your teachers need time to complete essential job responsibilities outside of their lesson time and classroom instructions. However, too many school systems are not currently structured to provide teachers with enough time to be successful. According to the Center for American Progress, teachers in the U.S. spend an average of 27 out of 45 hours actively teaching every week. Compare that to teachers in Finland who spend an average of 21 hours per week, with the additional workday hours allotted for planning, collaboration, grading, and engaging with parents and guardians.
To produce the highest quality and most effective lesson plans and identify the most effective instructional methods, school districts must give teachers time to collaborate, reflect on performance-enhancing strategies, and test creative approaches to instruction. School leaders can provide teachers with the time necessary to improve their performance, without infringing on their time outside of work, by reimagining the school day. A creatively modified schedule can help provide the time, and balance teachers need to accelerate and amplify student learning.
Proven-Successful, Innovative School Day Models
The Center for American Progress compiled a variety of recommended innovative school schedules for districts looking to give teachers the time needed to improve student progress, three of which we summarize here. In reviewing these models, you will notice that all share the following priorities:
- Additional time for planning and collaboration
- Flexible instructional blocks to address unique student and class needs
- Opportunities for small group instruction or student-directed learning
Model #1 Inspired by Guilmette Elementary School, Lawrence, MA
Guilmette Elementary School increased allotted instructional time for the year by 260 hours, including common planning time, by extending the school day and strategically aligning grade team schedules. On Mondays through Thursdays students follow a consistent schedule. On Fridays, they engage in enrichment programming, such as art, music, yoga, and cooking from 12 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. led by community partners. During the same time, teachers engage in professional development and planning. It is important to note that the district’s teacher contract was modified to accommodate the additional instructional hours with the inclusion of a stipend of $2,500 per year.
The results? Over the past four years, the elementary school’s ELA and math proficiency scores have steadily improved. In addition, the school outperformed other elementary schools in the district.
Model #2 Inspired by Greenfield Middle School, New Haven, CT
Greenfield Middle School’s innovative learning schedule prioritizes four modalities of learning: self-directed learning; small group learning; large group instruction, and immersive expeditions. Every day, students participate in self-directed learning to reinforce the importance of self-accountability and to allow them time to develop self-paced skills. Students accomplish small group learning in groups of 14 to 16 students in which groups explore unique topics collaboratively, and are given individual feedback.
Large group instruction follows a more traditional method of lecture, experiments, and debates. To provide additional in-depth learning opportunities, every eight weeks the students participate in one-to-two week-long immersive programs. During this time, they are allowed to thoroughly study a specific topic or learn a skill that will benefit their academic development. The student-directed learning and immersive programs give teachers the time needed to evaluate student progress and plan assignments and lectures.
Teachers in Greenfield Middle School are also assigned individual instruction areas, such as humanities, math, science, writing, or social studies. By focusing on specific topic areas, teachers can refine methodologies and maximize achievement outcomes.
Note that the district invested in a personalized learning platform (PLP) software system and individual student laptops to enable the type of self-directed learning that is critical to this educational format. Students use the tools to guide their education instead of traditional textbooks and materials.
Greenfield schools are part of the Achievement First network of public charter schools. One year after adopting the model above, kindergarten and middle school students demonstrated proficiency at or above other Achievement First schools in Connecticut. Also, kindergartners exceeded 90 percent proficient rates in reading, and 60 percent of students showed at least 75 percentile growth in math, and fifth-grade math scores exceeded the network average.
Model # 3 Generation Schools Secondary Schedule, Brooklyn, NY
The foundation of Generation Schools’ school day model aims to lower student-teacher ratios, reduce teacher workloads, increase teacher professional development and collaboration time, and increase student learning time, all while enabling teacher-student relationship development. Generation Schools’ teachers are required to participate in a two-week Summer Institute. It is a time for immersive collaboration and planning for the school year ahead. Grade teams are also given two weeks of professional collaborative time throughout the school year, while their students are enjoying intensive learning opportunities.
The key to Greenfield’s successful strategy to reduce teacher workloads lies in its innovative approach to redefining instructional roles. Teachers are categorized as either a Foundation, Studio, or Intensive teacher. The differentiated roles encourage professional development and ensure teachers are set up to excel in their job role. The categories further organize teachers into grade level teams, and either a college or career path intensive unit to offer the type of specialized instruction students will require based on their intended future paths post high school graduation. The new definitions and expectations have been impactful in increasing job satisfaction and mitigating attrition.
Students are given similar flexibility in their course scheduling. They are required to participate in extended foundations in the humanities or STEM courses as well as studio classes based on individual interests and skills, including art, art history, foreign language, physical education, and advanced sciences.
As a result of its reimagined school day and teacher roles, Generation Schools Network has improved student achievement and graduation rates. Brooklyn Generation School reported improved student attendance and course completion. It also improved four-year graduation rates to 69 percent, nearly matching the City’s overall graduation rate of 70 percent. Given that 85 percent of the school’s students have historically entered high school behind or significantly behind expectations, the graduation rate improvements are remarkable.
Guilmette Elementary School, Greenfield Middle School, and Generation Schools are proof that traditional educational models don’t have to be the future of education. By understanding the unique challenges of your school district and the needs of your teachers, you can redefine learning outcomes, give students opportunities to engage in immersive, self-paced learning, and give teachers a more enjoyable career path. Such a focus will allow you to accomplish your ultimate goal: To prepare the next generation of our nation’s leaders to be innovative thinkers and accountable learners.
What is your school district doing that is creative or out-of-the-box? Please share your ideas with our community of school leaders in the comment section below. We’d love to hear from you!
Benner, M., & Partelow, L. (2017, February 23). Reimagining the School Day. Retrieved July 16, 2019, from https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/education-k-12/reports/2017/02/23/426723/reimagining-the-school-day/↩