Tag Archives: Scheduling

A Quest to Serve All Learners, Everywhere, Anytime

A hybrid is something made by combining two different elements.  My earliest understanding was that of the mule, the result of crossing a horse and a donkey. In the field of education, hybrid learning is best defined as some students participate in person, whereas others are online. Educators teaching virtual and in-person learners at the same time.  

Though often used interchangeably, hybrid models are not the same as blended learning.  Blended learning is resultant when educators combine in-person instruction with online learning activities, completing some components online and others in person.  A hardly foreign approach in technology-rich schools.  

In an article authored by Celisa Steele titled, “Hybrid vs Blended Learning: The Difference and Why It Matters,” further distinction is made.  “Both types of learning involve a mix of in-person and online learning, but the who differs in the two scenarios. With hybrid learning, the in-person learners and the online learners are different individuals. With blended learning, the same individuals learn both in person and online.”

360° Accommodation

The pandemic ushered in a necessity for renewed flexibility and inversely spurred creativity to strategically design schedules to accommodate all learners wherever they may be, at whatever time.  The terms synchronous and asynchronous more than mere buzzwords, were essential to take into account.  

Amidst a background of more questions than answers, scheduling becomes anything but dichotomous. Dr. John Spencer illustrates five different models for structuring hybrid learning.  

Differentiation Model:  students at home and in-person engage synchronously on the same lesson.  The two groups frequently interact with one another.
Multi-track Model: students work on the same lessons but they are divided into cohorts that exist in separate tracks. The cohorts rarely interact.
Split A/B Model: students alternate days between being at-home and being in-person.  Most at-home learning is asynchronous with a few opportunities for video conferencing.
Virtual Accommodation Model: When the group at home is small (3-4 students) they can function as a virtual small group but use video chat to join the in-person classroom.
Independent Project Model: When a face-to-face lesson doesn’t work off-line and only 1-4 students need to work virtually, an independent model works best.

Spencer recognizes how every model has strengths and weaknesses.  Further he comments, “As educators, we need to be strategic about which model we select based on the needs of our students.” Furthermore, Spencer attests to the importance of being intentional if hybrid learning is to work. A one-size fits all approach could not be justifiable, equally choices must be made instead of kidding ourselves that every model might be implemented with success.

Various Hybrid and Blended Models Mixed to Make a Jambalaya 

Currently, we find ourselves ushering in a sort of Wild West.  If nothing else, a spirit of innovation prevails and we must remain optimistic; to at least give things a try.  Yet, upon first or even second glance, some ingenious scheduling options, might leave an educator wondering about their skill set and abilities to nimbly bounce between different modalities; designing lessons and supporting learners in-person, while at the same time virtually, both synchronously and asynchronously.  A reality where some schedules may be a combination of hybrid and blended models.  Possibly three of Spencer’s models, and an overlooked delineation of the difference between hybrid and blended learning.  In effect, models proposing eighty minute lessons with a combination of physically distanced learners in-person and virtual synchronous but also asynchronous learners; cohorts on A/B days; and sixty minute entirely virtual synchronous and asynchronous lessons.  One may tire reading about such a schedule, so the exhaustion in implementation is unimaginable. Further, some families may be weary of sending their child to school, resulting in some learners always virtual in real-time, whereas others remain in different time zones and always asynchronous.  And to spare a bit more confusion in schedule design, we will not examine what it might mean when educators similarly do not feel safe to return to in-person instruction and remain entirely virtual.  

Amidst the jambalaya, some educators as well as families may question the very nature of a school and its identity, especially if a variety of hybrid and blended models overlap.  The motivation is apparent, complex scheduling for the sake of providing access to all learners. Though a noble hill to die upon, an analogy of diversification may not be so far-fetched.  Would Nike ever expand to brand potato chips?

There is legitimacy in questioning, “Who are we?”  Especially so, as educators tethered to the values of excellency constantly dedicate themselves to honing their craft.  Some may be filled with intimidation, wondering if in our attempt to be everywhere, at all times, for everyone; might we be spread thin?  The result is one of mediocrity, where some learners are served, in some places, some of the time?”

Time will only tell.

As we embark on what appears unchartered waters, a spirit of voyage hopefully seeps into our being.  A focus on the potential and not the peril.  One of the greatest explorers of all time, Sir Ernest Shackleton attested to the “need to put footprint of courage into stirrup of patience.”

Poised and positive we set sail.

Scheduling , Why Wait?

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

If your phone battery is not at 100%, would you still use it? Or, would you sit and wait for it to charge?

If your water bottle is 50% empty, would you continue to use it, or would you immediately go refill it?

If a schedule is 70% ready to be built, would you start building it, or wait until you have 100% of the information?

Here are the correct answers: Use It; Drink It; Make It Now

Start Now, it is Never too Early

I have built many schedules. For new schools, new programs, residential life, and events. In my experience the most important rule about academic scheduling, PK-12, is to start now, because it is never too early. Literally, after the first week of the academic year, most schedule issues arise. Issues need solutions. Solutions need a process. Processes take time. Time is always the main currency of any PK-12 organization, and currency should not be wasted.

Scheduling is All About Percentages

Imagine  planning a very  traditional elementary school schedule. The homeroom kind of schedule found in many American Schools.

There are 50 teachers. In August the school is getting 10 new teachers. Do I wait for those teachers to arrive to plan the schedule?

Let’s state that another way. I have 83% of my team. Can I make a plan with 83% of my team? Yes.

Observable data and experience would easily indicate that very few people in a school want to be responsible for scheduling. This data would also indicate, that more senior staff are more likely to have the desire to be involved, as they are aware of the issues.

And, do not forget, these 10 new people probably have email or other methods to communicate their goals for scheduling well in advance of the start date. There is no need to wait for their arrival, to incorporate their ideas.

More than 50% of any team can get a tremendous amount of work done. The Pareto Principle is a further reminder that only 20% of the total team is needed to produce 80% of the required output. That is 2 out of 10 people, assuming they have the skills to do the work

Many times the motivation to wait is not related to waiting on data. It is the inverse. The person believes they have enough information. Therefore, they can simply wait to finish the work at an ebb in the their annual workflow. I know have done this many times, and it would be the misjudgment that haunts me the most frequently.

Percentages work both ways. Scheduling is deceptive. People often seem to look at all the information and conclude, “I can wait. I have 90% of the work done.”

In my experience, that last 10% takes just as long, or longer, than the first 90%. The last 10% often involves meeting niche requirements for students, negotiating time sharing with another division, a pending change to a curriculum that will add (or subtract) required hours, etc.

This is another reason to start scheduling for the next year, as early as possible. The time to complete the work is deceptive and often inconsistent.

Waiting for 100% of everything is a waste of scheduling time, and waiting to complete 10% is also a waste of scheduling time. Both strategies can have the same result: an incomplete schedule on opening-day.

The Reality of the Flexibility

There is something I like to call, The Reality of the Flexibility.

Often new scheduling ideas come from a sense of concern: Our children need more…or Our Children need less. Legitimate, and exactly what a school loves to hear from their staff.

However, most schools follow a curriculum, and have to meet requirements outside of their control. For example, a governing body may require every student have four, forty-minute Spanish classes every week. A curriculum connected to a third-party organization might insist that every high school student complete 120 minutes of mathematics every week. This list is endless and often complex.

Having discussions about making changes is important, but most suggestions can be quickly sorted into the “possible” and “impossible” categories.

The day has a finite amount of time, and the year has a finite amount of days. The number of changes possible in any schedule is usually a very small percentage of the total. The reality is, the schedule is usually not that flexible.

The Ideal Timeline

If you want to see some dramatic improvements in scheduling, and have a more pleasant summer vacation, I recommend the following:

  • After the first month of school, create a schedule planning document. Send it to anyone who is involved in scheduling. If you need to see a planning document, email me directly. tony.deprato@gmail.com
  • Have new ideas for schedules submitted by the end of the third month of school.
  • At the top of the second semester, top of the third quarter, or bottom of the second trimester (hopefully you see the pattern) have the first version of all the new schedules ready.
  • Gather feedback. Adjust. Repeat.
  • Do course requests if required.
  • After spring break plan a new schedule walkthrough for every division. Find the problems before they are real problems.
  • Gather feedback. Adjust. Repeat.
  • Have all final schedules in the hands of teachers, students, and parents by the last week of school. Include the following line: “Schedules may change slightly without notice.”