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Slow Pivots — What’s Driving the Change to Reimagine School Schedules?

Slow Pivots — What’s Driving the Change to Reimagine School Schedules?

Virtual Learning  |  District Leadership  |  School Leadership

School schedules and use of time are one of the few remaining relics of the industrialized learning model. Even when most schools moved to virtual learning in March 2020, many organizations replicated the existing bell schedule and instructed teachers to move their onsite instruction online. The school leaders believed it would hold teachers and students more accountable and create more predictability to help families plan their own schedules. 

But pre-pandemic, some schools began to look across the systems that were set up and consider more flexible and agile options that were more in tune with designing learning that is more compelling, personalized, and appropriately challenging for their students.


  • Regular instructional time with students

  • More structured support time to remediate, extend learning

  • Flexible options for planned learning events (e.g., exhibitions, project design time, conferencing) during the school day

  • Flexible options for students to engage in place-based experiences (e.g., community service project, internships, independent project work)

  • Flexible options that are more aligned with student sleep schedules and other priorities

In the first post of the series, we delineated key benefits that have been realized in virtual schooling. As district and school leaders have done empathy interviews with their staff, they have been surprised by the positive responses. After the early challenges, some teachers reported that there were aspects of online teaching and learning that they appreciated, such as increased ability to better meet individual student needs through 1:1 conversations, regular use of feedback, and tailored assignments. 

The following table helps school leaders reimagine what a virtual school schedule could look like based on abl’s Four Dimensions of Time.  

Four Dimensions

of Time 

Traditional Version

of Virtual School

Reimagined Version

of Virtual School

School calendars

Follow the traditional 180 days over the course of 10 months

School can be all year long with breaks during each semester - eliminating summer slide.

Bell schedules

Follow traditional bell schedule that mimics brick and mortar school

Flexible start and end times based on the student's program of study.

Learning drives the amount of time needed — can be combined or separated based on a variety of factors such as project design, developmental needs of individual students, in-depth investigation/analysis.

Staff time without students

Teachers have one common planning time

The grouping of staff in PLCs is flexible based on the challenge, aspiration, or plan (e.g., interdisciplinary project, examination of writing across grade levels).

Teachers could have multiple collaborative planning times to create, examine, and fine-tune their learning designs and approaches

Professional development could happen during the school day without subs needed (asynchronous times).

Academic programming

Offers the same courses the traditional schools offer

Provide equitable courses across a district.

Build new advanced courses and equitable pathways that lead to authentic workplace experience and post-secondary opportunities.

Provide virtual “magnet” schools for more choice in students' schooling options. 

The silver lining for public schools having to go virtual has opened up new opportunities to stay competitive with charter/private schools, to keep public dollars while still being in service to their civic mission and commitment to every learner. As school leaders continue to think about what virtual school will look like in their district over the next few years, here are some questions to ponder: 

  • How might we reimagine what time looks like in a virtual school to meet all students' needs?

  • How might we measure student learning through mastery and not through seat time?

  • How might we approach public virtual school choice as a strategy to create a high-quality school option for every child through academic programming? 

This design process for virtual school schedules may also unlock fresh possibilities for brick and mortar school schedules. The continued goal is to make public schools more agile, equitable, personalized, and aspirational for every student through how we use time to organize learning.

Missed part 1? Check it out here!

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