October 7, 2016 Media

Puzzle Building with a Purpose

Today’s guest author, Furman Brown, is the Lead Designer and CEO at Sensible Innovation, an organization dedicated to helping school leaders find uncommon yet practical solutions for organizing their talent, time, technology and space. In the summer of 2016, Furman worked with 20 public school teams in Chicago. The teams serve more than 14,000 students in grades PreK-12.

A school’s schedule reflects its vision. The amount of time allotted per class influences how teachers design classrooms and prepare lessons. It determines how students seek help and access technology. It affects how teachers collaborate. It determines the enrichments available to engage kids. It impacts how school leaders support staff to build coalitions, ensure accountability, and more.

This summer, ~20 school teams completely re-organized their master schedules to reflect their academic priorities. These teams underwent this “transformational scheduling” process with my team as part of The Fund’s Summer Design Program (SDP).

Transformational scheduling feels a lot like solving a complex puzzle. By approaching their school’s puzzle with fresh eyes, each participating team was able to craft a whole-school plan to foster student and teacher success. Surprisingly, even when different schools start with similar pieces, the final puzzle “pictures” often vary greatly.

Henry Elementary and CICS Loomis are two good examples.

Both schools are committed to continuous improvement and worked hard throughout the program. Their teams wanted to better meet the needs of their individual students and staff. They sought to personalize learning for all children and schedule substantially more time for teachers to collaborate to make this happen. Despite starting with similar goals, the logistical realities and specific priorities of the schools meant they had to build quite different puzzles.

  • Henry Elementary, a district-operated school serving the Albany Park neighborhood and a recent winner of a Breakthrough Schools: Chicago grant, developed a schedule to enable school-wide personalized learning. The teachers now have longer periods of common teaching and planning time. Their new schedule allows for teachers to collaborate in grade-level clusters for 100 minutes per day and for students to spend 120 minutes switching classrooms throughout the day based on interests. Also they now have a school-wide genius hour which leverages community partnerships for personalized learning projects and allows students to conference with mentors based on their individual learning goals.
  • CICS Loomis Primary, a K-2 charter-operated school on Chicago’s south side created four groups of classrooms, or pods, with students from multiple grades. Each group of teachers has at least 105 dedicated planning minutes as a group each month. All the planning time allows for the creation of choice-based student learning stations, which help meet individual student’s needs. In class, teachers spend the majority of their time working with small groups of 4-5 students across multiple grade levels, rather than with whole classes of 26.

These are two examples of 20, with more to come in the year ahead. I believe innovative use of time, driven by teaching and learning needs, is possible in every public school. The teams we worked with this summer proved how much energy and insight teachers and school leaders bring to Chicago’s schools. We know this is an important step of the work that lies ahead.