How to Start a Flex Period (in Middle & High Schools)
While more and more middle and high schools look to start a Flex Period, there are few resources to help them through the process. This leaves teams of principals, assistant principals, deans, and lead teachers spending more time than necessary trying to make sure they have all their ducks in a row. While starting a Flex Period can feel overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be. We’ll guide you through the process in this post, starting with a brief description of what a Flex Period is and how to start one in 5 steps.
What is a Flex Period, and Why Does it Matter?
Often born from an Advisory Period, they can go by many names, like Activity Period, Flex Block, Tutorial Period, or Intervention Period (for more on the most common names for Flex Periods, check out the 5 Most Popular Flex Period Names in Middle & High Schools). At its simplest, no matter what you call it, a Flex Period is a time carved out in the daily schedule for students to go somewhere different each day based on their needs. They’re usually designed with some kind of intervention and/or enrichment opportunity in mind, as these often don’t happen or are forced after-school, creating a different set of challenges. It is also common to use them for clubs, mentoring, studying, and making up assignments or tests.
Schools find them important in giving teachers more time with the students they most need to see, allowing students more choice in how their time is spent in school, and as a tool for personalized learning. It’s common for schools to see increased engagement, attendance, satisfaction, and achievement from their students after implementing Flex Periods in their school.
If you’d like to learn more about what a Flex Period is and why it’s important, you can check out our What is a Flex Period? post here.
How to Start a Flex Period
We’ve broken down the process of starting a Flex Period into the five steps below:
Identify Purpose + Goal(s)
Create the Schedule
It’s likely that if you’ve been thinking about this for very long, you’ve already done some work for at least one of these steps, even if just in your head. If you’d like to skip ahead and download our Flex Period Planning Tool, you’re welcome to do that, too, or continue reading below to dig into each of these a little deeper.
Step 1: Identify Purpose + Goal(s)
As with most new initiatives, it’s best to start with what you want to accomplish. Flex Periods are no different but it’s important to remind ourselves. While they’ve become a best practice across the country, we need to ensure they align to our goals for the school, otherwise it might not be the right strategy or the right time. This is also important because it’s crucial to the next step, getting buy-in. While your purpose and goals should be thought out before moving to the next step, it’s not worth overthinking at this stage because your purpose and/or goals will likely evolve overtime.
Flex Periods can help achieve many goals, like improving student achievement, reaching and improving achievement for struggling students, providing more enrichment, increasing student choice, and even personalizing learning. It’s important to take a minute and identify your purpose aligned to the bigger picture. Doing this helps identify and align your goals easier. It also ensures your team doesn’t view this as “another thing we have to do” but rather an important strategy to achieve what they’ve already been working towards.
If you’re struggling to come up with a purpose statement, try filling in the blanks below. It’ll let you capture what you currently think is most important and other things you’re thinking of so you can move forward.
Starting a flex period at (school name) will enable us to (insert primary purpose), while also (insert secondary purposes, if applicable).
As for goals, once you’ve identified your primary (and possibly secondary or tertiary) purpose, it’s important to draft some goals. Again, you can always come back to refine these later (we even recommend it after getting some input from your team), but having a draft to start helps ensure that a Flex Period is worth pursuing and will overtime help you decide if it’s working (and worth continuing). For your goals, we highly recommend making them SMART (that is, specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound). If you’re not familiar with the concept of SMART goals, there are many places you can learn more about them (like this article by Mind Tools). When setting goals, we’d recommend 1-3 goals that again align to your purpose (which aligns to your school’s vision). Some common areas to set goals for Flex Periods are improving student achievement, decreasing tardiness and/or absenteeism, and increasing student engagement, but the possibilities are endless. To measure these goals, you might consider using test scores, surveys of students and/or staff, or other information collected within your school, like attendance data.
In case it’s helpful, we’ve included some examples of possible goals to fit your school, or at least get you thinking, below (all assuming end of year results):
Improve state test scores by average of 20 points for each subject and grade
Increase the number of students scoring proficient or better on the state test by 15%
Decrease the number absences across the school by 5%
80% of students believe Flex Periods are beneficial to their learning
80% of students agree they are more excited to come to school because of Flex Periods
80% of teachers believe students are more engaged in class
Step 2: Create the Schedule
It’s likely you’ve already started thinking about when and how you’ll be able to make time in your schedule for a Flex Period. We recommend creating the schedule after clarifying your purpose and goals because there will inevitable be trade-offs when implementing anything new in your building - in this case, time. It is important to know what you want to accomplish so you know the best places to pull from in creating your Flex Period. While it can be tricky and is important to make sure you meet your state’s requirements around instructional minutes, there are usually some relatively low-lift options. It’s worth remembering that there is no set minimum or maximum time a Flex Period should be, but most schools find they need at least 20 minutes to make it worth it. On the other end of the spectrum, most schools don’t have Flex Periods longer than 45 minutes unless they run the schedule less often (like once or twice a week). Below are some of the more common options, in order from easiest to hardest, though most schools end up combining a few of the options based on what works best for their context.
Adapt your Homeroom or Advisory schedule*
Repurpose minutes from lunch-time
Take 1 (or even 2) minutes from each passing period
Shorten each class period by 2-5 minutes
Extend the daily start/end time
*if using your Homeroom or Advisory schedule everyday doesn’t give you the required number of instructional minutes, you could also start by using it a certain number of days each week instead of everyday
Once you’ve found enough minutes to put into a Flex Period, you need to figure out where it goes in your daily bell schedule. Again, there are no hard fast rules here. While some schools like it late in the day, even as the last period, many don’t find that it’s most productive that late (making it easier to leave school early) and find it can interfere with other end of day logistics (like buses). Many like it earlier in the day, though most prefer not to have it be the first period in the morning, again for consistency of daily housekeeping activities, like attendance, and to give some leeway to be sure kids know where to go during that time given it changes daily. Below is a before and after example of a school that leveraged a few minutes from each period to create their Flex Period and chose to have it mid-morning.
Step 3: Build Buy-in
Next, and arguably the most important step, is to get buy-in from your community. This includes your teachers and staff, students, their families, and any other groups that might have a particular interest and voice in the direction of your school (like members of central office, alumni or parent groups, or even community organizations depending on the circumstances). While each school is different and you know your school better than anyone, in almost every case the most important group to build buy-in with is your staff. Afterall, they’ll be the ones that will execute the plans and serve as the backbone of its success (or lack thereof). They’ll also very likely be charged with communicating about it to other groups, who will be able to tell if they’re bought-in or not. Given that, we’ll focus on staff buy-in, but the same principles apply to the rest of the groups, many of which can continue to be bought-in well into the later planning and execution phases.
When getting buy-in from your team, we recommend thinking through the motivations and barriers the group will likely have (or even asking them about it). It can be helpful to think through using someone in the group you expect to be at each end of the spectrum (e.g. the teacher who is generally the most excited and the one who is generally the least). Are they motivated by reaching struggling learners, getting to work with small groups, achieving goals, or something else? Which barriers will they see as most problematic? Maybe it’s struggling to understand how kids will know where to go (and the worry of chaos ensuing). Maybe it’s being worried that it’ll eat into the class time they already feel is too short. Maybe it’s concern over having more to plan. Or maybe it’s something else. If you struggle to come up with a list that feels right or inspires confidence, we recommend asking a few colleagues or even teachers one-off to get their perspective.
After getting a sense of the motivations and barriers, we recommend crafting some key points to leverage the motivations and overcome the barriers along with the strategies to execute them, like staff meetings, one-on-one or small group conversations, or emails and other types of written communications. It could be helpful to share some data and anecdotes from other schools that have implemented Flex Periods that align to the motivations or counteract the barriers you’ve outlined. If you don’t know any schools to connect with that have successfully implemented a Flex Period, email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll happily put you in touch with one of ours from around the country. And in case it’s helpful to have some data in crafting your key points, we’re including some data points from a survey we conducted below, but would also recommend checking out our 19 Benefits of Flex Periods in Schools post for more. You’re also welcome to email us if you’d like some additional information at your disposal to move forward.
83% of teachers and administrators believed Flex Periods (w/ Edficiency) increased student achievement
73% of teachers and administrators believed Flex Periods (w/ Edficiency) increased student achievement
Over half of teachers and administrators believed Flex Periods (w/ Edficiency) increased student attendance
89% of students agreed that their Flex Period is important to them
83% of students agreed that they enjoyed their school day more because of their school's Flex Period
76% of students agreed they had more opportunity to participate in clubs or activities because of Flex Time
93% of students agreed they would like their school to continue using Flex Periods next year
Again, it’s important to remember getting buy-in will be an ongoing process, but it’s important to start early, especially with your staff, and involve them in ways that fit your school’s culture.
Step 4: Prepare Logistics
Preparing the logistics is often the place that feels the most overwhelming. Afterall, you’re planning for something that likely hasn’t happened before. Here, you’ll want to make sure you have answers for your team to maintain the initial buy-in you’ve already begun building. Below we’ve included a list of items we recommend you have a plan for. You can also download our free Flex Period Planning Tool that includes a more in-depth list of questions to guide you through the process.
When to start your Flex Period
If and how teachers and/or students will have a say in daily assignments
How to resolve conflicts when multiple teachers want the same student
How to ensure each session is the right size
Who will own making the official assignments
Who will communicate daily assignments to students, teachers, and administrators
How assignments are communicated to each group
How to make sure teachers have sessions when they’re supposed to
How to know where each student is each day
What tools will be required to accomplish each of these
Fortunately, while these can be overwhelming, there are options to make them easier. One option is to put together a bunch of tools, like spreadsheets, forms, and documents, and assign someone (or a group) to own the creation, maintenance, and communication about each. The other option is to explore software designed to handle these logistics for you. If you’d like to learn more about Edficiency and how we simplify and automate the process to save your team significant time, click here to sign up for a conversation.
Step 5: Develop Norms
After planning out your logistics to ensure your Flex Periods can run smoothly, it’s time to think about the norms that’ll be important to communicate to your team. These include both the day-to-day (like how, when, and where to take attendance on a daily basis) and the exceptions (like what happens when a teacher is out sick). Below, we’ve included some areas to think through that we believe will impact most schools (our Flex Period Planning Tool also includes a list of questions to guide you through the process) :
Deadlines for submitting flextime requests
Timelines for notifying students, teachers, and/or administrators
Acceptable activities for Flex Period sessions
Maximum and minimum class sizes, including exceptions to the rule
Uses for public spaces (e.g. gym, cafeteria)
Procedures for absent teachers (known in advance and last-minute)
Attendance procedures (who, when, where)
Once you’ve settled on the necessary norms, it’s important to communicate them to your team. This could be in a presentation at a staff meeting, through an email, and/or any other systems you already use that seem appropriate. However you choose to communicate them, we recommend that you have them in writing so there can be a master copy to track any changes over time because, let’s face it, it’s likely some will need to be tweaked as you settle into your new Flex Period schedule. It’s also worth noting that while our list should cover the most important things in most circumstances, there might be some others your school needs to consider. These are usually surfaced by asking your team for their questions or feedback about anything missing. Most will likely be caught before you even start your Flex Period schedule, but don’t be surprised if something comes up in the first few weeks of execution. We’d also recommend a digital document, like a Google Doc, to capture (and even respond to) these questions that arise from staff, as they can help clarify existing norms and find areas that they might not yet exist.
As you continue the process of implementing a Flex Period, or whatever you decide to call it in your building, we hope you find these steps helpful. If you’d like additional guidance, please feel free to download our free Flex Period Planning Tool, which will walk you through the process in more detail and make sure you’ve thought of everything at each step along the way. And remember, what’s more important than tending to these steps in order like a checklist is the thinking that goes into each one. And if you need additional help, we’re always here to help - just shoot us an email at email@example.com.