As I write this post, school districts across BC are establishing their calendars for the 2013-14 school year. New legislation, Bill 36, described by government to: “eliminate the Standard School Calendar to enable boards of education and education authorities to offer more creative scheduling options that better meet the needs of their students” is driving these decisions.
Districts and their communities are discussing their local calendar ahead of the March 31st deadline for approving calendars for the upcoming school year. Langley has received a lot of attention, including a year-round option in the list of possibilities for next year. In West Vancouver, we have also completed a consultation process with the calendar steering committee receiving over 2,000 completed surveys from students, parents and staff on three possible calendar options.
There has been much discussion around the setting of the local calendar, particularly around whether we should continue with what is described as an agrarian calendar of September to June, with two months off in the summer, or seek a more balanced calendar with a shorter summer break and longer breaks at other points in the year. I don’t want to take up the issue in this post, but a related issue that has come up during the consultations –the request for standardization — particularly when it comes to the scheduling of calendars including the placement of professional days and school breaks, and the organization of time / blocks within the day.
I have written a number of times about our move to a post-standardized world in education — different assessments for different students; greater choice and personalization in what students learn and when and where they learn it, and how students demonstrate this learning.
The learning format I envision incorporates students starting their learning early and some starting class late (we know there is research that encourages a late start-time). Some students might take evening courses, others in the summer, and still others taking part of their program online. This is currently the case in some places and may come to pass as the norm, but what our surveys show, and is supported by the conversations I have had with students, staff and parents is a request for more standardization when it comes to the school calendar. All groups recognize that it is easier to customize an education model when calendars are standardized.
So why do staff want calendars standardized?
Professional learning: if professional development days are aligned across and between districts it allows for greater collaboration across schools, and particularly in speciality areas where this can be very important as it allows teachers from different schools to collaborate more easily. It also allows for the sharing of expert resources – one district may bring in an expert of early learning, and the session would be available to teachers from several districts without teachers being released from their teaching duties, since all had aligned professional days.
Teaching in multiple schools: if a teacher has a specialty (Japanese for example), a standardized calendar can allow for them to teach their specialty in multiple sites; as an example, teaching mornings in school A and afternoons in school B or alternating days between schools.
Staff are also parents: staff often live outside of a district, with surrounding districts on similar calendars organizing family commitments would be easier
And why do students and parents like standardized calendars?
Convenience: in the era of choice with more students attending multiple schools (I know one family in West Vancouver with students at four different schools), a standard calendar that includes common professional development days, and school breaks, makes life a lot easier
Choice: running a common calendar in schools, in the same or neighbouring districts, allows students to take the majority of courses at their home school and pursue their passion at another site. In West Vancouver, this means students from multiple schools can attend afternoon sports academy programs because schools have the same block rotation. It also allows students from all three high schools to take their “core” courses on one day, and participate in the ACE-IT Carpentry Program at West Vancouver Secondary on the other day. In turn, aligning with surrounding districts, it allows our students to attend Carson Graham in North Vancouver, to participate in their ACE-IT Culinary Program.
Next year, our district schools will have aligned their professional development days and common breaks. Efforts are also being made to align our breaks with other schools in Metro Vancouver. We will actually have more standardization in our calendars than every before — a funny result of legislation intended to create flexibility.
Eventually, we may have balanced or more alternate calendars. But for now, largely in the name of creating increased choice for students, standardization allows for greater customization and hopefully greater personalization of learning.