May 21, 2019

The Master Schedule Waiting Game

We need to get rid of the master schedule in schools. The master schedule limits learning experiences for learners. For those of us who have created a master schedule, the following scenario is all too familiar. After weeks of work and massaging, the schedule is as complete as it is going to be. If judged by a percentage, if only 15% of the learner’s requests did not get filled, then you are happy. Of course, the downside is that there are 15 percent of learner’s requests did not get satisfied. A student who wanted a specific course (say, AP Biology) cannot take the course because it is not “available” during the time the learner is available. We have just limited the learning experience for a learner. That is unacceptable.

Adult Convenience

Creating a master schedule is something that makes adults in the education system happy. It is meant for their convenience. The administration uses it to “keep track” of kids and teachers. The teachers use it to negotiate what classes they teach. The teacher unions (if a school has one) uses it to direct work environment issues. The school board will get involved to determine how many “sections” of a class is acceptable or how many learners you can pack into a room with a teacher. The dominant view is that a well-done master schedule keeps order in the school. This is a first order effect. After all, the learners seem to be walking zombie-like from class to class so everything is good, right? What about the second and third order effects of a “great” master schedule?

The second order effect is that a culture of compliance permeates the school. Learners and teachers comply with where they are supposed to be at specific times of the day. Teachers comply with the rules and procedures that are put in place to assure that the master schedule is followed (hall passes, late for class discipline, etc.). A command and control system becomes ingrained in the mindset of all stakeholders in the school.

The third order effect is learners segment learning into separate disciplines. You learn English in room 321 with Mr. Smith and History in room 28 with Ms. Jones. And never should those two disciplines meet…that will wreck the master schedule. Critical thinking skills that require a learner to make connections across disciplines simply do not occur. Teachers, who may want to collaborate with each other, cannot because the “master schedule” cannot be aligned to make it happen, thus stifling teacher collaboration and creativity.

Excuse us, We Are Over Here!

Meanwhile, there is this group of stakeholders over in the corner asking, “What about us?”…these are the actual learners! If I am correct, they are the ones that this entire educational bureaucracy is supposed to help. They wonder why a schedule will limit their opportunities for learning. They ask why so much effort is spent on a compliance activity made for adult convenience (the master schedule) is more important than simple things…like having a voice in their academic path.

With courage, schools can move beyond the master schedule. There are no easy answers to any of the following questions. However, if the school is radically learner-centered the answers will come.

How else can a school day be structured for your learners? In high school, are there “office hours” interspersed with class time? In the elementary school, can a group of teachers help learners advance through learning progressions? Learners can share learning time with all age level learners who are at a similar place in the progressions. What are the possibilities of empowering learners to have some personal freedom within the school walls? How can we set the stage for teachers to create learning experiences that are so engaging that learners want to be engaged in the learning? These questions are the start of deconstructing the master schedule.

About the author 

Tom Butler, Ph.D.

I believe that public education is for the public good and that education should be uncompromisingly learner-centered. The New Learning Ecosystem points us away from the old model of education that does not serve kids well. All educators regardless of where they work can help lead and contribute to the New Learning Ecosystem.

  • And, do not forget that scheduling totally reinforces the axiom that “time is the constant and learning the variable” whereas daily or weekly scheduling reinforces just in time learning that is relevant, interesting, and at the appropriate level making “learning the constant and time the variable.”

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