This last year has felt like a roller coaster with many ups and downs affecting all aspects of my life. Education was no exception. Spring 2020 brought school closures in March, so I quickly patched together virtual offerings for the Spring. My students experienced hold harmless grades, the waiver of testing requirements, changes to college admissions, and the loss of long-held traditions including proms, assemblies, and graduations to name a few. The hope of school opening before the end of year was dangled in front of us as the spring term wore on, but the likelihood of getting back to “normal” became more and more elusive as we crept towards summer. Myself and many colleagues were sure that fall would bring us back to a regular schedule with classrooms full of students. However, as summer marched on, it became more and more certain that we needed to rethink our plan. “Business as usual” was not going to work.
As my school began planning to reopen last fall, we considered a major complaint from students and teachers during the spring term; the difficulty of keeping up in all their classes simultaneously was overwhelming. To address these concerns and the public health guidance on safe re-opening, we worked on a plan to get students back in class. We took our 6 period day and split it into 3 blocks. Each teacher taught 2 sections for 6 weeks. Classes ran 5 days a week for 2 hours and 15 minutes and covered a semester’s worth of material by the end of the block. Students and teachers were both able to focus on only 2 classes at a time and do a deep dive into the curriculum. It took some trial and error to find the right pacing, but most teachers found a way to deliver the essential curriculum in the 6 week block. By teachers taking on both classes each block, class size was spread out and class maximums got down to 26 total students instead of our traditional 35. Students left at lunch to alleviate the congestion on campus, all of which helped to achieve greater social distancing than would have been possible in our traditional schedule.
Students have praised the schedule design this year and appreciated the ability to focus on only 2 classes at a time. Many have claimed that even though the pace is faster, they are learning more since their attention is not split between 6 different courses. Teachers have enjoyed focusing on fewer students and class sections at a time and appreciated the smaller class sizes. As we begin looking forward to the 2021-22 school year, it is clear our campus is ready to embrace change. Seeing the potential of this block model, our school is looking at a way to create a similar model for next year when our mandated minutes are expected to go back to normal. Teachers are excited about the possibility of a change to our traditional bell schedule and we are now exploring 3 classes for 9 week blocks. Administration and teachers from across campus are working together to brainstorm ideas and create a bell schedule to pilot next year. This would have never happened pre-COVID; there was simply no incentive to explore this type of model. Now that our school has weathered a year of upheaval, we are ready to embrace change to better serve our students.
Working in education throughout the pandemic has been challenging, but inspirational as well. It has taught us that the way we have always done things is not the only way, or even the best way. It has encouraged us to think outside the box and look for new and creative solutions to meet the needs of our students. I am hopeful that the face of education is changing in a positive way and that our community is ready to try new ideas. If we can rethink the way we offer classes to students, we can rethink the way we educate, engage, and assess them too. I believe that this experience has taught teachers that many of our educational constructs are unnecessary and should be reimagined to better serve our students. I am no longer looking forward to getting back to “normal” after the pandemic. I am excited about creating something even better.