What’s the most common thing you hear teachers say they need more of? Time. Time for instruction, planning, supporting struggling students, and building relationships. At Haynes Bridge Middle School in Alpharetta, Georgia, we implemented an A/B block schedule and found a way to maximize every minute teachers have with students each day.
The idea was born out of the experience that many schools had in March 2020 in response to the pandemic—there were fewer classes, with more minutes each day. Throughout that crisis, our teachers saw success with their students’ academic growth and the realization that more time and fewer classes might provide opportunities otherwise unknown.
In our district, all middle schools have students for 430 minutes each school day. With our block schedule, that time is divided into five periods. Four periods (1, 2, 4, and 5) are instructional classes that are 80 minutes and meet every other day. Third period is “Reset Block”—a time for students and staff to reset for the day. It meets every day for 90 minutes and is a rotation of lunch, recess, and independent reading time (IRT).
3 Ways The Schedule Supports Appropriate Behavior
1. Recess: Students have outdoor recess (weather permitting) every day. This provides a structured time for students to play and socialize every day. They’re able to walk the track, play sports, sit and talk with friends, or sit alone in the middle of each day for 25 minutes. Knowing that they’ll have this time reduces disruptions of students trying to play during instructional time.
2. Students Success Skills (SSS): SSS is a class that meets for 80 minutes every other day. This time is used for teachers to facilitate social and emotional learning lessons (provided by the school district). During SSS, students practice skills; teachers facilitate grade-level content review; and all nonacademic assemblies, lessons, and tasks take place, such as grade-level assemblies, administering district and school surveys, providing lessons for outside speakers on life skills, and anything that isn’t part of the core curriculum.
3. Reset Block detention: When there’s a behavior in which a consequence of removal is issued, instead of assigning in-school suspension during class time, students are able to serve detention during Reset Block. Reset Block detention is structured as a restorative consequence with a formal plan for students to reflect and restore relationships with peers or staff who’ve been impacted by the situation.
4 Ways The Block Schedule Capitalizes on Time
1. Fewer transitions: Students change classes only four times during the day, which minimizes transition time. This also reduces the time that students are in unstructured settings that may lead to poor behavioral choices.
2. Recovery for missing work happens during the school day: During Reset Block, the 60 minutes that each grade has for recess and IRT is used as an opportunity for students to work with the content area teacher to make up missing work. Each day of the week is dedicated to a different content area. Although students may miss recess and IRT on some days, they’ll rarely miss all of them. This is received not as a punishment but rather as an opportunity for support.
3. SSS time is used for social and emotional support and noninstructional tasks: In the past, these activities interrupted instructional time. Thankfully, that’s no longer necessary with the implementation of the SSS block.
4. Time is focused on direct instruction and small group support: When the lesson is held every other day instead of every day, the time for attendance taking, openers, and closers is reduced by half. With a typical 45-minute lesson, approximately 15 minutes are dedicated to the beginning and end of the lesson, with only 30 minutes left to teach a lesson and hold small group instruction. In most classes, with that amount of time, small group instruction is rare.
With an 80-minute lesson, if 15 minutes are used for the beginning and end of the lesson, that leaves the teacher with 65 minutes to deliver instruction and support small groups. Although the teacher only sees the students every other day, they can be more intentional and thorough during their time with students.
Get Community Buy-In
If you’re considering a transition to this type of schedule, you must be thoughtful, plan well, and give yourself time. This isn’t a change to make overnight—multiple stakeholders are impacted, and there will be varied opinions on what type of school schedule is best.
Be sure to check the school board policy and software capability. Before embarking on this journey, make sure that there are no board policies or district software constraints that would make it impossible.
Create a plan to share with your key players. Make sure that your boss is aware of your idea and believes in your ability to execute it. Once you have their support, share the plan with your leadership team. They need to see the plan and understand why you want to change something that, in their eyes, may not be broken. As soon as your leadership team is on board, inform the rest of your staff.
Pilot your block schedule. Do not move forward without trying it out first. Give yourself a year for planning and piloting before moving to a block schedule.
Tracking data is a must. For the first two years (at least), not only should you track student success data, but also you should administer perception surveys to staff, students, and parents to keep track of the reception from the community.
Use Feedback as a Guide
For the first two years of implementation, we administered surveys to students, parents, and staff for feedback on the implementation of the schedule. Through that feedback, we heard how students appreciated focusing on fewer classes per day, had more time in each class, and enjoyed having Reset Block. Students and parents shared reduced stress and increased happiness in the middle school setting.
The staff’s feedback was mixed. Some loved the longer periods for the same reasons the students expressed. The staff who didn’t appreciate the schedule shared concerns about not seeing students every day and about keeping students engaged for an 80-minute lesson, or they just liked the old schedule better.
With any change, there will be people in support and those who are not. With school changes, we must ask ourselves, is the change having a positive impact on student learning, and in this case the answer is yes. If I could go back four years and give myself advice, I would tell myself, “Go for it—this is the best decision you will ever make for your students.”