How to Hack your Bell Schedule – Why you Should Blow it Up!

The world has evolved since the 1950s and so should our bell schedules. Engineers for equity look at structures and practices. See how you can unlock the hidden power in your bell schedule. See how it created the conditions for success at my school.

I am not about that Status Quo Life

I went into teaching to make changes for students of color and poor kids, and I went into leadership to make changes for a whole school. The truth is things have been designed to maintain the status quo and produce underskilled underclass. It also has been designed to promote our current racial hierarchy.

It is my job as a leader to see how new structures can create conditions for deeper learning, student engagement, and more opportunity for success; especially for oppressed and marginalized students.

Let’s start with the bell schedule.

 

We are no longer preparing students to be factory workers and simply pass the US Citizenship test. It’s inequitable and oftentimes racist to only “offer” interesting and rigorous courses to some students. Culturally Responsive Leadership says it’s time to say goodbye to the boring, robotic 6-period daily schedule.

Buh bye bland bell schedules.

 

Issues with Traditional Schedules

  1. You can usually only fit 6 classes depending on how long they are.
  2. Students have more than 1 interest, and they deserve choice.
  3. There are more than 6 competencies to cover.
  4. How do you get in social-emotional learning and intervention classes?
  5. 40-50 minutes doesn’t provide much time for deeper learning, experiments, projects, group work, or individual feedback.
  6. By the time you start, introduce anything, there are’s only 5 minutes left!
  7. Real life doesn’t happen in 45-minute increments, and it’s not isolated.

Neo, think outside the box

Better yet, blow up the box!

Blow it Up – 8 Big Changes You Can Make

  • Look at block scheduling and hybrid blocks
  • Add a 7th or 8th class period but spread it out over a week
  • Create a 10-day rotation
  • Start each day with an intervention period to fill in skill gaps
  • End each day with office hours where students can drop into any teachers classroom for help
  • Coordinate your schedule with a local college or community center to offer more options
  • Add a daily period for community building or social-emotional learning.
  • Think of releasing students early to provide more time for teacher collaboration and planning (here’s what you can do with the time)

skeleton meetings

 

Small Hacks – LIGHT SOME SMALL FIRES

If you can’t completely overhaul your schedule, try something small.

  • How about a 0 period to allow for additional course offerings?
  • Add a “Week without Walls” like Leadership High School, where staff offer something fun and outdoors and students choose based on their interest.
  • Combine classes to create Integrated Courses and offer more electives.
  • Add an Advisory period once per week to develop social-emotional learning skills.

Boundless Benefits

If you are brave and creative enough to attempt this, the sky is the limit. This is why we need Culturally Responsive Leaders. If you do the hard work, students will have time for more robust science labs and art projects. Students can build bridges, program robots, and design egg drop crates.

Teachers will have time to check in with more students and ensure that students are grasping the content. Project-Based Learning and outdoor education can become more accessible.

Longer periods provide time for students to work together, tapping into a collectivist approach to harness the potential of many students of color. Integrated courses can also provide the brain with more opportunities to elaborate, apply, and connect synapses.

In longer periods, students can develop deeper relationships with teachers through the increased production of oxytocin. This allows for social justice applications and discussion of real-world issues. Block periods can provide more time for the development of cognitive routines and provide students with “chew” time (Hammond, 2015).

 

It’s Real in the Field

At my school, students are behind and start in the 6th grade with many skill gaps. 75% are not reading on grade level, with the majority students 3-4 grade levels behind.

We realized that we couldn’t offer students reading intervention and English language development class because they also wanted to take an elective. All students deserved access to art classes. And students should get something they consider fun.

It wasn’t fair to force remediation into their only choice class. Also, we wanted to implement project-based learning, which didn’t fit into 38 or 50 minute periods. Finally, we wanted our student to have access to health and computer science, a new school board mandate.

Fire in the hole.

Kaboom. (I should write about the process of changing it sometime)

We added a 7th period for all, added reading intervention, combined lunches, and went to a modified 72-minute block schedule. It got even crazier. On 2 days per week, we decided to release students early at 1:15pm. We moved our start time up 45 minutes earlier. The debris is still settling but we are reaping the benefits. See our bell schedule here.

We actually started the previous year, by hacking, and using a 0 period for our Newcomer English Language Learne students, to take ELD. This gave some students space in their schedule to take an art class. This became a bright spot (learn more about leveraging bright spots here) to build towards a larger redesign process.

We used a 7 month process of design thinking to redesign our bell schedule and master schedule. (More on that in a future post)

 

Where are we Now? 2 years After the Explosion

  • Our reading scores are accelerating at triple the pace. We started with 3 levels of reading intervention, but that has blossomed into an additional course for students with disabilities, leveled English Language Development courses, and small 1:1 pullouts for students who are still working on phonics and letter blends.
  • Students in our Project Based Learning classes reported more engagement and interest in their classes, according to annual surveys and just by seeing how interested they are in their classes. Teachers reported that they felt more prepared for their classes and were able to catch up on grading. Teachers are grading less work on the weekends.
  • During our early release time, we added PLCs for teachers, open collaboration time for teachers to connect with any teacher they don’t normally have shared prep time with. We have the flexibility to have a 2 hour meetings, 30-minute meeting or anything in-between. Now groups form organically, and teachers are even offering Office Hours for students to come in and makeup work.
  • Students were able to take both an elective course and an intervention course. Since some students were proficient in reading, they ended up getting access to a second Elective course. We have added Spanish, Computer Science, Health, and African American Manhood Development.
  • We have 2 Homeroom periods and use them for circles, community building, assemblies, SEL lessons, exploring patriarchy, presentations, and more.
  • We are seeing more exhibitions, presentations, and displays of learning, some of which are cross-curricular or shown to other grade level teams.
  • Teachers are saying, “I really hate the days when we see all classes for 44 minutes. We don’t get anything done. I like blocks better.”
  • Students are in class and spend less time in the hallways between classes. And it’s calmer.

Conclusions / Final Words

Culturally Responsive Leaders signed up to work with students, teachers, and the systems at large. Sometimes you have to patch up a wall, and other times you have to knock it down and rebuild it. You’ll know when it’s time!


What schedule changes have led to results? 

What big change would you love to make?

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