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Creative Scheduling Approaches

STRATEGY: Use creative scheduling models that increase and improve the use of instructional time.

To reduce the achievement gap, schools can implement innovative schedules aimed at improving student learning; the use of time is a valuable but often untapped resource. Innovative schedules include but are not limited to extended-year, extended-week, and extended-day programs. Often, alternative schedules do not add hours to the school day but can improve the quality of the time that students and their teachers spend at school. A well-crafted schedule can result in a more effective use of space, time, and resources; aid in establishing desired programs and instructional practices; allow teachers the chance to collaborate; and enhance the overall school climate.


While schedules (daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly) can vary from elementary school to middle school to high school, any effective schedule creates flexible blocks of time so that instruction can be differentiated, allows for opportunities for small-group work and student-directed learning, and gives teachers more time to plan and collaborate, thereby improving instruction. As Meg Benner and Lisette Partelow wrote in their 2017 article Reimagining the School Day, “Effective school schedules maximize the time teachers spend with their students but also recognize teachers’ additional responsibilities beyond instructional time.” Poorly constructed schedules squeeze the time that teachers have “to plan lessons and complete other administrative tasks [that shape] a school’s professional environment and, ultimately, [affect] the quality of instruction.”

An effective schedule has a strong impact on a school’s culture. Teachers who do not get the chance to plan together can be overworked and frazzled, running from one instructional period to another without a chance to reflect on their craft with colleagues. This frustration can be exacerbated when there is no flexibility with instructional time and students are not well served; a lack of control over instruction can further frustrate teachers and other staff members. A thoughtful and well-executed schedule can minimize these frustrations, allowing for collaboration and well-meaning instructional decisions.

First Steps to Consider

Elementary school:

  • Some elementary schools have adopted parallel block scheduling to reduce instructional fragmentation, improve discipline, and provide regularly scheduled yet flexible opportunities for extended learning enrichment.
  • Some schools have also scheduled all specialists for equal periods of instruction on a rotating schedule during the same block each day.
  • Recess can be scheduled contiguous to another class change, such as for lunch or special classes, to reduce time lost to the movement from one activity to another inside the school building.

Middle school:

  • Some schools have moved to a four-block daily schedule, to reduce fragmented instruction.
    A 75-75-30 annual calendar can be used, in which the first and second semesters of the year have seventy-five days (with four blocks of instruction daily), followed by a thirty-day mini session for enrichment, remediation, or a special instructional project.
  • Another way to organize the annual calendar is the 35-(5)-35-(15)-35-(5)-35-(15) plan. Each semester, students attend regular classes for thirty-five days and have five days for remediation and/or enrichment. Then they continue regular classes for thirty-five days and end the semester with fifteen days for extended learning time or enrichment/electives.

High school:

  • Increasingly, more high schools are implementing block schedules to address curriculum fragmentation; schools operate alternate-day schedules, the 4-x-4 semester plan, and other variations.
  • Some schools periodically alter the regular schedule so that each class meets for a full day on a rotating basis. For example, in a six-period school (on a six-day cycle), teachers would meet with each of their five classes for a full day and then have a full day off for planning or professional development.
  • Some schools have scheduled one long lunch period rather than two or three short breaks. During this extended time, the library, gym, computer lab, and outdoor recreational areas are open for student use, teachers schedule office hours, and club meetings and other activities can be held.

Complexities & Pitfalls

Elementary, middle, and high schools redesign their schedules for a variety of reasons, not all of them with student learning in mind, and any new schedule can create difficulties. Most importantly, any schedule transition involves far more than just operational planning. New schedules have implications for curriculum, instruction, facilities, and parents and community stakeholders, and they require the cooperation and support of all stakeholders. The success of a new schedule can be dependent on factors such as the school’s demographics, teacher training, organizational improvement, and evaluation of the schedule model; if these are not considered when proposed and developed, there is greater potential for a new schedule to not succeed.

Guiding Questions

  • How will this model address the needs of students, parents, teachers, and the larger community?
  • What is the motivation for implementing an alternative scheduling model?
  • Are there any feasibility issues related to teachers’ unions and district policies?
  • What are the implications related to teacher staffing, transportation, security, and food?
  • What are the financial implications of implementing an alternative scheduling model?