'School Time' helps educators make the most of their days

(David Joyce / Flickr)

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For teachers, it’s often said there aren’t enough hours in the day. One company — working with administrators, faculty and staff at K-12 institutions — is trying to change that.

Riley Johnson, principal at New Technology High School in Napa Valley Unified School District, used a new service called Unlocking Time to push the boundaries of how his teachers and colleagues could maximize each school day. The service, released to the general public on Wednesday, was designed by scheduling software company Abl and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It’s simple — administrators, teachers and staff individually answer questions on how they spend their time in an average school day. The results are compounded into reports and sent back to the administration with what Johnson, who piloted the assessment tool, said are “thought-provoking” findings.

“There’s not that many outlets out there for a school leader or schools to really think about time outside of the traditional master schedule builder mentality,” Johnson said. “That’s what really drew us at first — partnering with Unlocking Time to really push that conversation to see what really is possible.”

The assessment, called the School Time assessment, is one of a few initiatives Unlocking Time and Abl are building, along with a visual encyclopedia of bell schedules, practical time strategies and case studies from K-12 schools.

Johnson, whose school of 420 students he described as more progressive than most with regard to how their time is structured, said the survey forced his teachers to make decisions on issues they didn’t know they had. The 82 percent of faculty who filled it out, for example, had to answer a question about how they work collaboratively. The results, Johnson said, showed him that collaboration was one thing they weren’t doing enough of.

“Teachers had to make a choice there on their belief system of what collaboration is when that happens, and what we noticed was that some current structures that we have for teacher collaboration were really positive, and we maybe weren’t leveraging them as an ecosystem as much as we can,” he said.

“We knew it was positive, but we didn’t know how much of an impact it really had on individual people as much as it did until we saw the collective data. That gives us some really good insight into ‘OK, as we move forward, how do we make sure that component of our design is more explicit to people, versus just happening.’”

While School Time assessment is being used elsewhere across the country, Johnson’s school is currently the only one in the Napa district to have adopted it. He said a district-level conversation is happening, though.

“When I look at the proficiency rates on state tests, I know there is more schools can be doing with the time available to improve student outcomes,” said Dr. Barbara Nemko, Napa County Superintendent of Schools, in a statement.

The survey releases assessment results in a PowerPoint presentation, with the data condensed into different charts. It’s not overly complicated, but it forces dialogue that wouldn’t otherwise occur on a school-wide level, Johnson said. 

“We could have have had this dialogue internally without the data, but what it’s done is it’s centralized the conversation away from how individual people feel to what is the through-line in our work. That’s kind of our next step, which is really pinpointing on those through-lines and backwards designing that student experience to make sure that those through-lines are really elevating the student experience,” Johnson said.

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