Posts Tagged ‘calendar’

There is an absolute rhythm to a school-year. It was more pronounced for me when I was in a school, but I still see it here in the Board Office. There is the excitement of September as students and staff come back fresh off of vacation. There is the reality of late October as interim reports hit in high school. In December – it is a double hit: Christmas Concerts and first-term reports. Then in the new year you can feel this build up towards spring break and then we return in April and the weather (is usually) better, we begin to look for ways to pull the year’s learning together, celebrate achievements and keep and eye on next year.

Of course, during all 10 months (and really all 12 months) we are always asking people to think differently, to push innovation and look for new and better ways of supporting our learners.  I have been wondering if there are specific times of year that people are more curious, more open and more engaged in these conversations.

With only anecdotal data, here are the four key times I find that people want to talk about innovation:

October – By October, the school year has started, and classes are settled.  In high school, it is in October that teachers and departments already need to look ahead to what they might want to offer the following year and begin the approval process.  We are comfortable in what we are doing in October but not to the heaviness of November.

Mid-February – I find January to Spring Break to be the sweet spot for moving ideas forward in schools.  I think students are the most focused during this term.  There seem to be fewer distractions than the first and third term for everyone.  If I was to differentiate this period to the other ones, I see this one as the time when people try new things with their practice.  The other times people are often looking ahead to what they might do next term or next year – in this window of time, people are implementing new ideas – taking what they learned from conferences, workshops or colleagues and trying it in their class.  I would love to see if my hypothesis is true that the most “new stuff” in classes happens in the middle of February.

May –  May feels a bit like October when it comes to innovation.  People are looking at next year but they are not into the field trip / track meet / graduation ceremonies of June.  It seems to definitely be the time when people have one eye on this year and one on next year.  It is the season of teacher postings, administrative changes and also a time when people look at what they might want to do differently.

Last Week of June / First Week of July – I get more emails about new ideas at this time of year than at any other point.  I often say that everyone has some “thinking time” at this point in the year.  School – regardless of your role – is all-consuming so it is finally once report cards are in and classes are being dismissed and before “summer holidays” really kick-in that people have some time to think about what they might want to do differently or put together and email about a proposal they have been ruminating on for a while .

I am sure all jobs have a rhythm.  I do find the seasons in school to be very pronounced.  I see a lot of if it X month, you can be sure that Y will happen.  As we look to move our schools and our system, we need to be conscious of this and look for the windows when people are ready to talk about doing things differently.  I am curious if what I see with the times of year are consistent with others.


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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.

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