5 Obstacles to Starting a Flex Period & How to Overcome Them
Providing individualized instructional opportunities for students is no longer an option for schools. It’s an expectation shared by parents, quality teachers, and even students themselves. Fortunately, there is a way to provide timely individualized instruction and expand broader opportunities without dismantling the bell schedule. While still a relatively new idea in many ways, Flex Periods have been honed and perfected in a growing number of schools. These periods allow for extra tutoring, additional lessons, clubs, and activities.
Though the idea of implementing a Flex Period may seem daunting, it can be much easier than expected with a little planning and the right tools. In this post, we’ll discuss what a Flex Period is, why it’s important, and the five main obstacles schools face when starting a flex period (and how to overcome them).
What is a Flex Period and Why Does it Matter?
A Flex Period is a block of time during the day that is used for providing academic support or enrichment to students that is separate from traditional class time. Many schools place their Flex Period in between a pair of morning classes or immediately following lunch. The best Flex Periods include all teachers and students simultaneously, but some schools have multiple Flex Periods catering to smaller subgroups of the school, especially when this works conveniently with a split lunch period. But one thing all good Flex Periods have in common is that they provide an opportunity for students to interact with all of their teachers (or at least teachers from all of their subject areas), and ideally, the teacher a student sees is decided based on his/her particular needs that day.
At its most basic, a Flex Period is a far superior version of study hall. The advantage of the Flex Period is that a student can see a teacher that can actually help them with their work. And when that work is in a different subject area tomorrow, the student can go see a different teacher better suited for the task. But well-executed Flex Periods are so much more. They provide opportunities for teachers to conduct reviews around sticky lessons, students the chance to make up quizzes or tests during the school day without missing more class time, clubs and activities to include students who wouldn’t be able to stay after the end of the school day, and guests, career speakers, or college recruiters to visit with students without removing them from class.
If you’re unfamiliar with Flex Periods, please take a moment to imagine the possibilities for learning if your students and staff had a 25- to 45-minute block of time each day to focus on the “loose ends” or explore their subjects more deeply. Seriously, try it…
It would be pretty great, right? But I’m sure you also couldn’t help thinking about the obstacles and barriers. The good news is that it’s all very possible…
If you want to know more about what a Flex Period is and read about a few examples, check out our post: What is a Flextime Period?
5 Most Common Obstacles to Getting Started (& How to Overcome Them)
A successful Flex Periods begins with buy-in and commitment from the school administration and teaching staff. The idea is fairly simple: we strive to provide for each student’s unique needs. The most common barriers to buy-in include finding the time in the daily schedule (it’s unlikely you’ll extend your academic day for this), a loss of class time (it already feels like we’re short on time), the worry that some teachers and students will not use the time for its intended purpose, and daily logistics (it feels impossible to make new rosters each and every day). Let's tackle these one by one.
Getting Buy-in from Staff
This is one of the trickiest and most involved barriers schools face when starting a Flex Period. And it makes sense - people are complicated. Each person has their own perspective and experience leading to their own set of motivations and barriers for engaging in something new. While tackling this one is inextricably linked to those discussed below, one of the most important things in getting staff buy-in is clarifying the purpose of implementing a Flex Period for your school’s specific context. While schools often have similar purposes in starting one, they are also often unique to the school’s needs.
Start with your current vision and/or goals for your school. How do Flex Periods create opportunities for achieving these? The leader(s) of the charge to start the Flex Period should have a strong sense of this on their own, but it is often worth opening up the conversation to your staff to get their input on how they see it connecting (and how they don’t or why they’re not convinced it’s the right strategy). I’d also recommend going through this process in smaller groups and starting with those who are seen as leaders in your school community (whether by title or not). At the end of the day, having a vision for your Flex Period and clarity for how it connects to your school’s goals is the most important - leverage your strengths and what you know about your team to decide the details of getting their buy-in and keep reading below for some of the likely barriers (and how to overcome them) that you’ll hear from them.
Finding the Time in the Schedule
Once you’ve got buy-in, you need to create the time for your Flex Period. As mentioned before, the best Flex Periods are a common time throughout the entire building. The quickest and easiest way to create the time is to simply reduce the regular period by 2 to 5 minutes. Some schools can also consider reducing passing time or lunch periods. As discussed, these minutes, while substantial, are typically quickly earned back through better use of the remaining class time. Many schools conduct their Flex Periods daily (which can be ideal for addressing the broadest range of needs), but others conduct Flex Periods on select days during the week.
Another common implementation sees Flex Periods split by grade level and combined with alternating lunch hours (often called a Lunch & Learn or SMART Lunch). This can work well, but you may consider alternating teachers’ lunch periods on some routine schedule so every teacher can be available to every student at some point throughout each week. One last option exists for schools that already have a Homeroom or Advisory Period schedule, as you can just replace these periods with your Flex Period (even if you still have these existing groups meet during this time occasionally).
Loss of Class Time
While it might feel counterintuitive at first glance, this one is just a fallacy. When teachers do an honest accounting for how their class time is spent on an average day, they’ll see that they spend a lot of time dealing with individual students instead of interacting with the class as a whole. Be it taking late homework, distributing a quick makeup quiz or test, or answering a pressing question that a student had on their assignment that demands one-on-one interaction before class starts, those minutes add up quickly. These are all important tasks, but they soak up time often meant for the larger group.
By creating a Flex Period, those tasks suddenly have time devoted for them and teachers will reclaim any time lost, and more, in their traditional classes. While most staff will be able to come around with a discussion on the topic and the time to process this on their own, some might need some more time or to experience it themselves. It could also be helpful to have them talk to teachers or administrators at other schools that have experienced it firsthand (if you don’t know any yourself, feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’d be happy to connect you with some).
Off-task Teachers and/or Students
It’s true… not everyone likes to fully engage, especially in new endeavors, when not fully bought-in. Some teachers might be slow to get on board or initially see it as another planning period. If executed well on the logistics side (see below for more on this), even these teachers will be getting different students from their regular classes during this time each day. It’s likely that they’ll quickly see opportunities to use the time for and that at least some of their students will initiate a productive use of time with the teacher (like getting help on last night’s homework, for example).
But it’s also important to set expectations for what is and isn’t an acceptable use of flextime. Some schools focus narrowly on academics and prohibit co-curriculars from using Flex Periods. Some expect teachers to offer structured lessons during a Flex Period, while other schools allow teachers to determine the best use for the time. Some schools go all-in on the idea of expanding extracurriculars, alternating between academic and enrichment focused flex days. It’s really a matter of what works for your building and most helps you achieve your vision and goals. Once these expectations are set, it really becomes no different from holding staff accountable in the same way it’s done during the rest of the day, like walking the halls, reviewing plans, or periodic pop-ins. This applies at the student level as well, as we know that when teachers are engaged and held accountable, they ensure the same is true for students. And lastly, depending on the tools you use to operationalize your plans, you can also leverage other data pieces to more efficiently ensure the time is being well used across the school.
Creating rosters for every teacher that are different every day can easily feel intimidating. That’s why logistics are often the biggest hurdle underpinning those touched on above. Fortunately, you have options that simplify the process. At a basic level, you need a system that accounts for what each teacher and each student are doing, along with where it is taking place (whether a classroom or public space around the building). Ideally, you’ll also want to ensure there are no conflicts (like a student being requested to be with two teachers at the same time or two teachers trying to use the same room for different reasons and stretching capacity). To do this, you’ll need a way to track which of your teachers and students want to see each other and which teachers will use which room.
For schools doing this on their own, they often limit teachers changing rooms or don’t allow students (and sometimes even specific teachers) to have any choice, assign by first-come-first-served, or assign each student to a homeroom teacher as the default. It’s also common that they have a variety of spreadsheets, documents, and forms trying to keep track of all this information. Fortunately, software (like ours) also exists that simplifies this process. With our software, it’s easy to create sessions for any purpose, ensure spaces don’t go over capacity, balance class sizes, look up any student at any time, take/track attendance, and empower teachers and students to request each other at varying priority levels, ensuring each student is where he/she most needs to be each day - no more reminders to make a request, no more manually assigning, and no more guessing where each student is each day. Managing the logistics of a Flex Period can seem overwhelming, but with the right tool(s), it can be easier than you dare imagine.
At the end of the day, any change a school comes with some challenges, especially at first. But, like anything, with the right planning and tools, it becomes easier. If you’re looking for more support, reach out to us at email@example.com and we’d be happy to share how we help schools make this process easier.