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Breaking down the brick and mortar of schools and trying the flex model

I have always been the type of teacher that needs to have change in my life. I have never been happy teaching the same things every year. I also was never happy with teaching in the schedule driven high school. So 5 years ago, I moved to a small school of 75 students for grade 7-12 where I would be teaching all the math and science courses. My first year was tough as I was trying to be innovative with in the parameters of the 5 day schedule. But there was a silver lining, my school was looking to change to a flex model timetable. Why you might ask.... We are a small school that would not exist in the old ways. The funding would not carry us. The limitation to time meant less course options. We could not afford to staff everything..

So the principal at the time floated an idea of moving to a new type of timetable. We started to have group discussions and plan what it would look like. We took the time to visit different schools who had already blown out the brick and mortar style of teaching. We needed to formulate a model that would work for us.

What we settled on was a flex timetable. What this means is our junior students (gr7-9) would have a set timetable with STEM, HUMANITIES, Phys ed, electives and french. So the big change in the younger grades was they would have cross-curricular classes instead of independent courses. This lowered the prep and teacher load and the work load for our students. This allows for great project based learning in theory.

Where the big change happened was in grade 10 -12 classes. We now schedule 2 periods a week with the teacher and 2 periods a week in seminar time. All of this change allowed us to have little to no course conflict time and have no distance ed courses anymore. But it did mean we needed to change our teaching style and look more in depth into our learning outcomes. We were limiting our direct teaching time and helping to develop greater project based learning. I like to say my 2 classes are like my rock show time. We are going like crazy and developing the ideas and areas of student the students want to take further. So this means we don't sit in class and watch videos, students watch them in their time and come to class prepared to discuss them. We also don't use class time for worksheets or questions. We don't do labs during these two periods, students make time to come do them when it fits their schedule.

So what is seminar. It is a common area where different teachers rotate through to help students stay on task and assist the learning. We do not mandate what students work on during this time but we do expect them to work. Students use this time for projects, worksheets, labs and personal passions. This is the flexibility.

We have also added a x block to our school twice a week. This is student driven areas of study that teachers facilitate. The main goal here is to learn together and maybe help students explore areas of interest they wouldn't usually get. I have been lucky to do the following: cake decorating, solar power, maker space,walking, martial arts, dance, swimming and so many more. Now none of these were my forte but we learned together.

This was an amazing idea and we began implementing it in 2015 - 16 school year. It was a great change and a difficult change. As we were getting into the fray of the change our administrator left our school for a different position and I was left with the task of leading us through the big change. We removed all bells and started to transform our classes to fit this new model. Personally I was all in on the change but not everyone was. We spent many days trying to figure out how this will work. The students were great and jumped on board for the most part. My main interest was in our grade 9 class who would be our pilot group to spend their whole high school career in this model. They were energetic and interested in everything we offered. Yes they were the ideal group. Many of them started to fast track their learning by taking grade 11 & 12 course while still doing grade 9 work. They pushed for school wide projects. It was a beauty to see.

Now my group is in grade 12 and ready to graduate from their flex model high school. Are they prepared? Yes. Most of our students have 130+ credits and have been part of major one or more major project (solar irrigation greenhouse, little house, drag race car) and some even acquired red seal standing in cooking and carpentry. Wow this is a great success.

But you may ask yourself does this really work? Can our school do this? How did it really help keep your school open? Well during my year as acting admin, we were able to take a school of 75 and be funded for 87 FTE based on the number of courses students were taking. During our first year running this model, I was tasked with going through an audit. The ministry of education sent their experts in to check that everything was above board here. The check the our filing, our ab ed courses, and then they wanted to check our student schedules and audit the time each course got and how we had students with an FTE of 1.5. These were long days and a lot of explaining but we were successful in showing that our students were able to do more than 8 courses a year without conflict of time per course. We have changed the way education can be done. Yes we are still feeling the growing pains but they are lessening and it is becoming the normal way to do school.

My main take away from this process is that yes we can change education systems and make it better. Lets stop doing the same old things because we always did them. Change is coming in the new curriculum and with it we should look at different ways to allow our schools to offer everything. Lets re-establish what education should and could be. If you are thinking of changing let me know and I can help you with any questions.

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