Many benefits come from adjusting the schedules in middle schools and high schools. For students, a schedule with only three or four periods a day means that they will only have three or four teachers a day—Wow! Fewer sets of rules, fewer subjects to prepare for a day, fewer subjects for homework, fewer passing times to be exposed to potential bullying. For teachers it means preparing for fewer classes, even though the preparation time may be greater per class, meeting with half the total number of students they are assigned (e.g. 90 students instead of 180+), and having more time to get to know their students better. There are many other benefits as well.
The major barrier for some teachers in accepting the schedule changes involving block schedules, longer periods, and fewer students, is fear. This change requires some teachers to change their way of presenting lessons. That statement doesn’t seem dramatic, but some teachers internalize this change, To some teachers, this means that everything they have learned and have done over the past many years of teaching was wrong. They are not failures—just experiencing growth. Change itself is hard for some people. Once they see how well student-centered learning activities help their students, they never want to go back to their old style of teaching.
Most students simply cannot sit as passive learners, listening and taking notes for that long day after day and enjoy the process. Some teachers are absolutely dynamic and entertain their students beautifully. When the lecturing teachers gave up full period lecturing and developed student centered activities, they found that their students simply did better. Test scores are higher, and general interact and participation were much more positive. This was a reenforcement for teachers to include student-centered lessons and activities along with teacher-centered lessons. Positive results from their students won them over, and they did not want to return to lecture based presentations alone.
Teachers who taught in other subjects had more immediate success with block schedules. Classes in math, auto mechanics, agricultural based, science related, physical education, speech, drama, journalism, foreign language, and other classes where student-centered learning flourished were successful with unique scheduling. Because a major portion of the curriculum was taught by teachers who often used student-centered lessons, the negatively impacted teachers were often outvoted when new block schedules or unique scheduling was introduced, researched, and put in place in schools.
One staff development program the helped teachers learn how to teach in the block schedule format, or in other formats different from the traditional 6, 7, or 8 period day was visitations to other schools that had various block schedules. Meeting with other teachers who taught similar subjects to discuss how to accommodate students, how to lay out student-centered projects, and how to create effective homework assignments had a major positive impact on teachers as they considered this adjustment of their own systems. Department meetings within schools gave teachers internal support. Teachers teaming up for lessons and activities was a major lift for them all.
Another way changing became successful was by including everyone that would be effected by the change throughout the research and planning process. Those included were school boards, administrators, teachers, staff, students, parents and community members. Including everyone, having their questions and concerns shared, cleared up the mystery of the complete change process. During the change process, all participants, especially teachers who were in the “trenches” and dealing with positive and negative aspects on an ongoing basis, had to be able to voice their concerns without fear of being “written up” for lessons that just didn’t work out, or for complaints from students for parents during this introductory process. Administrators needed to be open to really listening to their teachers and staff members, and to help find solutions that would work. Some schools set up ongoing visitations for teachers, both in person and online, to meet with teachers in other schools who had agreed to be mentors throughout the school year. Being able to talk with others who had experienced similar situations made a major positive impact on many teachers. Professional development and interaction was a major reason why block scheduling worked in many schools.
People in positions of influence can destroy successful ideas if they are not aware of the full extent of the change process. It is wise to keep open communication throughout the community so no one sets himself or herself up as the destroyer of the change process. Incomplete information, failure to receive assistance when needed, and fear of failure are the enemies of many change processes. At this time approximately a third of middle schools and high schools in the USA are using forms of creative schedules. This process is not new and it is successful. For many schools, it has been “business as usual” for many years.
Students who learn in cooperation with their fellow students and their teachers and who have succeeded as student-centered learners in an environment where the focus is learning, not punishing, and cooperating and caring for others, turn out to be better employees, successful college students, and caring community members. When they are educated in ways that encourage their involvement, they succeed. Teachers who are respected, given a reasonable load to carry (e.g. 90 students per day instead of 180+), have time to get to know their students. They have professional connections with other educators and want to stay in the profession. We are losing too many teachers because they are not respected due to conditions that are driving them out of teaching. Students are our future. Teachers are their guides. Time reconfigured can work for teachers and students. Many schools have already proven that it works. Higher grade points, fewer discipline problems, higher graduation rates, fewer dropouts, and higher teacher retention all make it a very good plan.