“My goal is to eliminate the schedule and for your team
to sit down together and decide how you want to use the
When our administrator made this statement, we
laughed, but we were intrigued. It was a radical proposal to
lose the “box” of time, to share time as needed, to let go of
structure as we knew it. Could teachers share time, deciding
weekly or even daily how minutes they would share? The
concept screamed chaos.
Yet as the members of our grade-level team began
a dialogue, the concept seemed more appealing. We
wondered, “What if we could control the time?” We
could decide what to teach, when to teach it, and for how
long. What an innovative approach: the people who use
the time actually control it. After a collective “Why not?”
collaborative scheduling was born.
Our middle school had been running a typical junior high
school schedule model for decades. Students in grades 5–8
traveled through eight-period days with 40-minute classes.
Many teachers considered this schedule to be restrictive and developmentally inappropriate, but the faculty could
not come to a consensus on a new approach.
As our team began discussing the administrator’s
suggestion, we focused our efforts on creating a
developmentally appropriate schedule that would allow the
faculty to control time. We dispensed with convention and
abandoned the idea of “schedule.” Instead, we considered
flexible blocks of time and creative teachers. We were able
to get beyond the idea that a schedule must be made up of
distinct and separate time slots and classes. Time became a
fluid entity rather than pieces of a puzzle.
Because several faculty members wanted to maintain
the constancy of their current scheduling model of math,
foreign language, physical education, computers, and the
arts, we developed a new model that maintained those
consistencies while allowing the remaining classes to share
the rest of the time within the day.
We mapped out the unrestricted minutes of the day and
realized the morning offered a block of 85 minutes and the
afternoon offered a 125-minute block. We decided to create
two 85-minute academic blocks and use the remaining 40
minutes for a flexible project time. (Figure 1)
As in block scheduling, we divided the number of
students equally into two groups. Group A attended two
separate 40-minute classes of math and either foreign
language or reading. (Foreign language and reading
rotated on a daily basis.) Group B attended 85 minutes
for the combined subjects of English, social studies, and
science. (Figure 2)
We initially intended to share the 85 minutes as a
traditional block and divide time equally among the three
subjects. However, we realized that with complete control
over this time, we held the freedom to manipulate it any
way that we wanted.
For example, at one time, we divided the 85-minute
time frame into one 40-minute block and two 20-minute
blocks. Students were divided into three groups and
traveled in a rotation through the classes. English was 40
minutes and social studies and science were 20 minutes
each. Other manipulations include 25 minutes each of
science, social studies, and English; 85 minutes of team
instruction, or one subject for the full time.
In addition, we realized that the subjects could rotate
through the slots, allowing for even more opportunities and
flexibility. Reading, for example, did not need to constantly
balance the math course. Within several units, we chose
English or science to balance the math course while reading
joined the “timeshare” block. This rotation of classes is
possible at any time—daily, weekly, or monthly—giving
participating teachers the opportunity to control their time.
After experimenting with various time options, we began
designing quality lessons and then negotiating the time to
complete them. We were no longer designing lessons to fill
a specific block of time; instead, we were able to question
our methods, think creatively, and not discount ideas due to
logistics or lack of time.
Eliminating the constraints of time lifted the veil on our
creativity as teachers. If the science teacher needs to spend
half of a day building solar powered race cars, we can do it.
Without “minutes” defining curriculum and our lesson plans,
students explore the topic in depth rather than its shallow
The afternoon timeframe was the same as the morning,
but also included one 40-minute flex period. During these
40 minutes, every student in the grade was scheduled for an
assembly, tutoring, or projects. It was time for exploration,
research, and connected learning experiences.
With three teachers holding complete control of 36
students and their 85-minute time frame, a plethora
of grouping opportunities presented themselves. The
flexibility in grouping lets teachers form small groups of
students for specific instruction as needed.
For example, when a group of five students needs
intensive writing tutoring, the teacher can devote 85
minutes to their needs. If the science teacher wants to
lead an exploration science lab with only eight students to
provide a more engaging atmosphere, rotations of eight
students through that classroom are possible.
Collaborative scheduling requires teamwork and constant
communication among faculty members to manipulate
and negotiate time. Teachers must discuss their lesson
plans and ideas so they can adjust time to meet daily or
weekly requirements. This interaction naturally spurs
dialogue and creates true teams of teachers. Teachers are
no longer isolated in classrooms; through conversation,
they strengthen bonds and concentrate on best practices,
curriculum, and students.
The collaborative scheduling model also requires
flexibility, and flexibility nurtures creativity. We are able
to teach a lesson or work on a project and adjust the next
day’s schedule to allow for more time or less time in a given
area. Without external demands of a determined schedule,
we can negotiate among ourselves at any time. We have
complete ownership of the minutes.
We cannot always finish our laundry in 50 minutes, and
the time it takes to cook dinner varies with the menu.
Imagine restricting those activities and others to limited
blocks of time! Time is not the only factor in learning; varied
methods of instruction lead to learning: individualization,
differentiation, and integration.
The radical proposal that initially screamed chaos
became the best possible choice. Two other teams in our
building have replicated this model and have greeted the
results with the same enthusiasm. The possibilities for new
curriculum design and scheduling are endless. Through
the continued use of collaborative scheduling, we have a
program that defines the schedule; the schedule no longer
dictates the program.
Jennifer Smith is a team leader and social studies teacher at McDonogh School, a K–12 school in Owings Mills, Maryland. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Nancy Cooper teaches middle grades English at McDonogh School and is a former middle school administrator. E-mail: email@example.com
Originally published in
Middle Groundmagazine, August 2011.