Flex Periods offer schools great opportunities for more time in the day, whether it be for clubs, enrichment, intervention, social-emotional learning, or any of the endless other possibilities that best meet the needs of your school community. However, whether or not schools already have a Flex Period, many middle and high schools often have special events that require unique scheduling for specific days, whether it be a college and career fair, community service day, free/fun day, or even just some office hours because one grade level might be taking a test (like ACT) while the rest of the school is not.
Regardless of the reason, schools looking to hold a “special flex day” know that the success of that day is all in the details. And with these details often come unique scheduling opportunities and challenges that we are asked about often here at Edficiency. So given that, we wanted to outline some key considerations to help make your “special flex days” a little easier. In this post, we’ll take a look at some of the key things to consider below:
Identifying Time Blocks
Locations & Open Seats
Handling Day-of Changes
Special Flex Day Considerations for Middle & High Schools
Identifying your purpose for the special flex day is critical to having a clear set of goals for the day. Your purpose will drive the types of sessions you have and the overarching theme of the day. Some schools look to have STEAM, Career Exploration, Health & Fitness, Arts - just to name a few, while others look to offer intervention or lesson extensions for every student. Sometimes schools might want to provide a bunch of “fun” activities for students to get a break, or spaces to catch up on work. Often schools might want to provide a mix of activities. Even when you’re offering your special flex day offerings only to some of your students as an alternative to a required activity that some of your students are participating in, like all juniors taking the ACT during the school day for several hours, it’s important to identify the purpose in what you want to accomplish for all students during this time.
2) Identifying Time Blocks
Once you’ve identified your vision and purpose, identifying how much time you have is the next step. Do you have an entire school day? Just the morning or afternoon? A few hours? Once you’ve decided the total time you have, it is important to determine how many specific “periods” of time you want to break it into, as well as the start and end times of each period. Knowing the length and types of your sessions (outlined below), as well as how many offerings you want each student to participate in, will help you determine the total number of periods, as well as recognizing lunch periods and how those fall into the scheduling of the day. For instance, some schools only have one period and assignment per student for special days where they volunteer off-site for the entire day. Others want to offer a lot of short periods so students have a lot more time to experience different sessions, which is usually most common for college and career fair presentations that are planned out. There is no right answer for the number of periods, but the main considerations are ensuring that there is continuity around how long the periods should last, that there is enough time for any presentations being provided, or for students to engage enough in whatever activity they’re assigned to.
Another important consideration is what groups, both adults and students, are required to participate, which can opt-in, and which are exempt from participating. While frequently all students will participate, that might not always be the case and can vary depending on the type of day you are having. Some special flex days occur because one grade level has testing, therefore that particular group will be exempt from the flex periods offered. Other instances have certain grade levels able to opt in, or all will need to participate. The day’s purpose will drive which groups participate.
For example, some schools we recently helped had freshman, sophomore, and senior classes able to “opt-in” for the special periods, choosing to stay home if they wanted, while the juniors were in required testing and thus exempt from participating. This allowed non-junior students to request to attend sessions or be requested to attend sessions by staff, if they were needed, but it also meant that if students weren’t needed by staff or if they didn’t have the need for additional time with a teacher, they could opt to not sign up for any sessions and not come that day. Another common scenario is to provide a day of celebration with some different fun activities for students to choose from at the end of the school year. Sometimes in these scenarios, seniors might have already graduated and are exempt from participating, while the other grade levels are still expected to participate.
Source: Example of the Participating Groups, and what that may look like in Edficiency’s flex scheduling software.
4) Session Options
When considering your sessions, there are a few things to take into account as you begin your planning. This will largely be influenced by the purpose and vision you have for the time, and why you have the time for a special flex day in the first place. Are you offering different types of sessions, like a mix of academic support, enrichment, study halls, college or career explorations, fun activities, and others? If so, you might consider using a consistent naming convention to indicate what type of session each one is (like “Academic: Algebra Tutoring” and “College: University of Wisconsin”).
If you are offering all of the same kinds of sessions, for instance, all of your session options involve a guest speaker talking about a career pathway, keeping things consistent in the names can be helpful so students can easily filter through them when searching, ideally looking to descriptions for more information if they choose to.
This is also when you want to consider if some session options are only open to specific groups (like grade levels, clubs, students with certain GPAs, interests, etc.), as you might want to limit specific sessions based on those groups. You might also consider whether certain spaces make more sense than others for students to be assigned there, even when they didn’t request to attend any sessions (since all students required to participate need to be assigned somewhere).
Lastly, you want to consider where each session will happen and the maximum number of students that could be assigned to each space. It is often helpful to consider what sessions you anticipate being the most popular (if giving students a choice), trying to put those sessions in larger spaces that can hold more students. If a session is a particularly popular topic, it may be important to keep students from being assigned to the same session multiple times. In Edficiency, we offer “vanishing groups” to keep students from attending the same session during different periods. This will also help ensure that more students have an opportunity to attend.
5) Session Leaders
As with any session, each of the sessions for all of the periods will need a session leader, which is often a teacher or staff member, but can sometimes be an outside volunteer or presenter. Knowing who will be the “owners” or leaders of each session is important, and we usually recommend ensuring a staff member is assigned to each session, even when you bring in outside volunteers or presenters. If you bring in outside speakers, contacting them and getting them scheduled will be key to your planning. This will also help with naming your sessions and determining the type of location that will be best suited for the session.
6) Locations & Opens Seats
Locations are a critical component for any special flex day. Each session needs a location and the number of open seats for the locations. It is important to recognize where each will take place, as well as the number of seats available. Recognizing that some sessions may need a larger location in the early stages of planning will be critical to having a successful day and ensuring things go off without a hitch. Trying to predict what sessions might be most important and/or popular (depending on how much student choice you’re offering) can be important to deciding which offerings get the largest locations. We also recommend you think of some of your common spaces as potential “overflow” options for students to default to if there might not be a session they want to attend so they could have some study or independent work time, or possibly just free time depending on the vision for your day.
7) Identify Timelines
Having a timeline for when students can engage in the system is a consideration not to be overlooked. Every student will need to have an opportunity to request sessions for each of the periods and it is paramount that they can see what is available for them to request. Clearly communicating the start date for requests and the closing date for requests will be important for all stakeholders. Another consideration here is whether or not different groups will start requesting at different times from others. If so, participating groups will be useful in how to stagger that for those using Edficiency.
Recognizing the need for your special flex day periods to be turned off, as well as pulling the data prior to your next default day is another item to address in your planning. This will be important to acknowledge so things can resume to business-as-usual as quickly as possible after the special flex day. Pulling data and communicating with your representatives at Edficiency will be key to closing out a great experience for your school community.
8) Communicating Assignments
Clear communication is a critical component of a success Special Flex Day. For instance, how will students know which sessions they will be attending for each period - will rosters be posted throughout the building, will a message be sent through the student information system (SIS), will the office staff be responsible for sending individual student notifications via mailmerge or other means? No matter the path you choose, having a clear procedure and timeline will be important.
For Edficiency customers, you may want to confirm assignments and send emails ahead of time, or you can always stick to the emails going out the morning of. It is worth noting that students will receive one email with all their assignments for the entire day in it (rather than multiple emails). This will ensure that everyone knows their assignments and their locations. Doing so ahead of time can be especially helpful when it might require additional transportation considerations, as it allows everyone to make a plan for their day beforehand - routes from session to session, materials needed, and any other logistics to ensure success.
9) Handling Day-of Changes
We also recommend having a plan ahead of time for any changes that might need to take place, whether that be students switching assignments, switching out leaders, or canceling sessions (likely due to a session leader falling through at the last minute). Some schools confirm assignments ahead of time and allow changes to be made before the day of, where some schools choose to let assignments change on the special day itself, and some schools limit student-driven changes altogether since they had the chance to make requests ahead of time.
For schools that allow changes day-of, in Edficiency admin can always move any student anywhere as needed. Teachers can move students into a session they own but not anywhere else. We also do provide the opportunity for students to change their own assignments, but that is not a default setting and needs to be turned on. It can lock students' ability to only change specific assignments based on the type of request that was used, and it automatically blocks them from moving themselves into sessions that are already at capacity.
Lastly, if a session leader falls through last minute, you can always have another leader lead the session (even if the contents and plan get adjusted), but you always have the option to cancel the session and Edficiency will automatically reassign students across other sessions, balancing the distribution as much as it can. This can be especially helpful when you have an outside presenter cancel last minute where you are unlikely to have anyone ready to take over that session on the fly. If you are to cancel a session last minute and are expecting attendance to be taken, don’t forget to ask your staff to refresh their attendance page to ensure they capture any last-minute additions. If you are taking attendance on paper, you might want to reprint your attendance rosters or instead choose to manually reassign students so you know which sessions need to be reprinted.
Special Flex Days are a great way to offer help, as well as enriching learning opportunities for every student on your campus. Putting in the work to have a successful and meaningful day is crucial to the success of your special flex day. Knowing your purpose, participants, and offerings are crucial steps in working through the logistics. Here at Edficiency, we are always happy to discuss the many possibilities for your school. So, if you are wondering about having a Special Flex Period day, reach out to your customer support specialist if you already work with us, or schedule a demo here.