Sometimes, Less is More
Over December, my students at Skyline High School
in Oakland worked on four school-reform proposals. This project is the
child of summer work that my colleagues and I did with the Buck Institute
for Project Based Learning and my recent trip to Finland.
While I was halfway across the world, talking
with Finnish educators, my students were studying the Finnish education system
and comparing that world-leading education to their own. After identifying
numerous places where our school could improve, each of my two Introduction to
Education classes chose two topics to dive deep into. Introduction to
Education is a tenth grade class for students who think they might want to
enter the education field as a career. These students then take
Educational Psychology in their junior year, and cap their experience with Peer
Education as seniors. This is the third of those four posts.
Less is More
My students would like
to have more minimum days. At
first glance, this may seem like an immature idea. Of course, students would like to spend less time in
school. However, this idea came
from a team of students who tell me that they are enjoying their classes. This idea came from a team of students
who imagine themselves in teaching careers after college.
So why would they propose more minimum days?
Currently, my school
has two minimum days each month.
These days fall on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month. On those days, school begins at it’
normal 8:05AM, but students are released at 1:15 rather than 3:05. We reserve the final near-two hours for
My students would
prefer to have minimum days each Wednesday.
They argue that having
a different bell schedule every other Wednesday is confusing. I have to agree. Personally, I’m never so happy that my
classes know that I release them at the end of the period rather than the bell
than I am on Wednesdays. The bells
never seem to be synced to the correct schedule. Sometimes, on a “regular” Wednesday, the bells sound in the
middle of the class. I see
students in the classes across the hall spilling out into the hallway. I see a teacher trying to herd them
back into their room. I hear the
vice-principal over the loudspeakers announcing that, “Please disregard the
bell, today is NOT a minimum day.”
It is very
disruptive. Even though my
students remain in their seats, we all freeze as the bell interrupts our lesson. It takes us a few minutes to wait for
the announcement and then get back to our work. I can only imagine how many instructional minutes are lost
to those classes across the hall, where half of the class is packed and
Having our minimum
days scheduled every week would allow teachers and students to anticipate the
bells better, my students say.
Students see the value
in teacher collaboration
My classes' school-reform project is a good example of teacher collaboration. My students mentioned to me that they
appreciated being able to work on their policy briefs in their English
class. One student mentioned that
she had learned how to check a source for bias in her history class, and used
that skill to analyze one of the reports her team used to support the rationale for their school reform.
My students would like
to see their teachers have more time to collaborate. They mentioned that they would like our classes to have more
projects like this one. The
students whose proposal was about teacher training, added that they would like
to see their teachers use collaboration time to share best practices. Actually, what they really said was,
“The better teachers should help the ones who aren’t so good,” but that’s
pretty much the same thing.
Currently, my school’s
minimum days are early release days.
On minimum days, our students begin classes at the regular 8:05. The difference is that we dismiss them
at 1:15 rather than at 3:05 in the afternoon.
Instead, my students
would like their minimum days to be a late start. They would like school to start at ten rather than eight in
the morning, and then leave school at the same time as a regular day. They quoted various research studies about
the need for teen brains to sleep later in the morning. You can peek at their research here,
In total, I like their
plan. I was especially impressed
with their findings about the teen brain and sleep. After hearing their presentation, I found myself wondering
not so much about changing our current minimum day schedule, but rather,
changing every day to a later start…
But that’s another