Across the country, schools are reevaluating strategies for meeting their students’ needs and reconsidering the role time plays in doing so. In middle and high schools across the United States, a growing best practice to give teachers more time with students is implementing “flex time” into the daily schedule. While schools with flex time built into their schedules often say there is a short adjustment period in getting used to the new schedule, they see many benefits that outweigh the challenges of implementation. In this article, we’ll define what a Flex Period is, explain why they're important, and provide 4 examples of how schools utilize flex time in their buildings.
What is a Flex Period?
A Flex Period is a set time of the daily schedule (usually around 30 to 45 minutes) where students go somewhere different each day. Most commonly students go to different teachers for additional academic support or spend their time in a more traditional study hall, but it is also common for students to attend enrichment sessions, meet with an advisor, make up class assignments for days missed, participate in club meetings, and take part in other extracurricular activities, like sports. While these can look different in different schools, usually the purpose is similar: to give students more tailored academic support and express their agency by exploring their interests.
Most schools that implement a Flex Period have one most days of the week, but others have them only once or twice a week with a small amount having them less frequently. When possible, a single school-wide period is ideal, as Example A below shows, so all teachers are available to all students during that time each day. When that’s not practical, there can be multiple each day, often in conjunction with lunch, as Example B below illustrates. In these situations, usually students are divided up, often by grade level, and have access to only one of the two periods with only some of the teachers being available on each period. That said, some schools, like JM Steele Accelerated Academy in the examples at the end of this blog shows, set up the multiple period schedule where students have access to both periods. Regardless of how schools fit the periods into their schedule, it’s most common for students to change locations for each Flex Period, However, sometimes students will keep an assignment for consecutive days, ranging from a week to multiple weeks.
Because of the various ways students and teachers spend their time in Flex Periods, they go by many names in different schools and can vary by region. Among the most common nationwide are Flex Period, Advisory Period, Mascot Time (e.g. “Panther Time”), Activity Period, Tutorials Period, Enrichment Period, Pride Time, Resource Period, WIN (What I Need) Period, and Intervention Period.
Why are Flex Periods Important?
If you ask schools with Flex Periods why they are important, you’ll likely get a lot of answers (we’ve done this, so we know). That said, among the most common reasons you’ll hear are:
they give teachers more time with students that need additional support or opportunities for extension activities
they give students access to opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t have without staying after school
they give students something to look forward to during the school day
While not a lot of research has been done on Flex Periods specifically, you can see the above reasons listed above echoed in The Effects of High School Flex Blocks on Students and Teachers by Stephen A. Pottage & Sheila M. Sillery at the Gordon Albright School of Education. Because of this, it’s not surprising that when we surveyed schools, we found:
83% of students claimed to enjoy their school day more because of their school's flexible period
89% of students said their flexible period was important to them, and
83% of staff claimed to see increases in student achievement because of their flexible period.
4 Examples of Flex Periods in Schools
New London High School (Wisconsin)
New London High was looking to improve its response-to-intervention (RTI) process and looking for a way to provide enrichment opportunities. They had an advisory every few weeks to do this where students reported to the same teacher each time to track their overall progress, implementing RTI where possible. They didn’t think the time was accomplishing these goals in the ways they wanted and looked to build a new system. They decided to change the name to I/E Period (for Intervention/Enrichment) and include it daily. In this new structure, teachers could create sessions each day to include whatever type of intervention or enrichment they felt most pressing. Then students and teachers could both request to see each other during this time to go deeper on the given topic that day. Students also had spaces throughout the building for study hall if they had no particular teacher to see that day. The principal believes it’s made a big difference and is happy to see that their scores on their state report card reflect this as well.
Plymouth Middle School (Minnesota)
Originally, Plymouth Middle had an Advisory Period on their daily schedule but decided to change the way they leveraged that time by creating Learn Explore Advisory Period (LEAP). In LEAP, they would have Advisory on Monday and Wednesday, academic support on Tuesday and Thursday, and Explore Periods on Fridays. Their intervention time on Tuesdays and Thursdays is spent matching students with teachers they need more support from, usually for more traditional interventions, tutoring, and small group instruction. On explore days, there is a range of activities, some that stay constant and some that vary. Students are able to play in the gym (among the most popular choices) while others attend club meetings. This allows students to participate in more clubs without making arrangements outside of school hours. This time has also been used for things like practicing for an upcoming talent show. Students can also suggest what they want for sessions and are often encouraged to run their suggestions themselves with teachers there for support. Some examples of student-started activities have been Star Wars Club, Kleeng-on language learning, walk & talk (walking around the building to socialize and exercise), and even a build-your-own mousetrap session. Parents have expressed that they especially love the change to include clubs during the day.
Hastings High School (Nebraska)
Hastings High started their intervention period as an HR where students reported to the same teacher each day and could get passes to travel to teachers they need help from on assignments. This movement created challenges accounting for students and resulted in time wasted, so they moved to a system that allowed students to get daily assignments that prioritized students with a specific request for each day. The school uses Mike Mattos’ model where teachers track students by learning targets based on "power essentials." They ask teachers to monitor which students are proficient and which aren’t. When students aren’t at grade level, students are retaught things they don’t have mastery of yet with the goal of catching them up so they can spend less time receiving interventions. Additionally, the school uses the time to perform interventions for students who have not become proficient on power essentials and/or learning targets deemed necessary for student success in the coming grades. Through this new structure, the school has transformed its intervention period to support their students in ways that were much more challenging before, especially tier 2 type interventions.
JM Steele Accelerated Academy (Texas)
JM Steele Accelerated Academy has two back-to-back 30-minute lunch periods built into their daily schedule and has decided to use this time to provide an array of opportunities to their students. On Mondays, students have a set lunch assigned based on grade level and spend the other 30-minute period in a more traditional advisory group. On Wednesdays, students also have an assigned lunch and participate in “Workday Wednesday” during the other period where outside organizations and companies come in to share their experience in the workplace. On Fridays, the school has “Funday Friday” where students spend their non-lunch period in large groups for meetings or fun activities. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the school has tutorial-related time called Power Hour where teachers hold sessions open for general help or focused on specific topics for targeted groups during these 30-minute blocks. Teachers generally have a set schedule for when they offer sessions to ensure they get a designated lunchtime each day which gives students the option to choose whether they’d like to take A or B lunch. This is also a time for club meetings, eliminating the need to meet outside of school hours. Students and teachers can both request to see each other during this time, so students are encouraged to pick at least one session each day (as opposed to having two lunches). While students are discouraged from having two lunch periods, they are allowed to double-up on sessions if they’d like to and eat in their tutorial or club meeting.
No matter what you prefer to call flex time in your school or how you fit it in, there are many benefits to having a Flex Period in your daily schedule. When deciding on the right way to implement one for your school’s context, whether you’re just starting one or considering an adjustment to your current Flex Period, make sure to do your research so that you know what you want to accomplish with the time, have a plan to operationalize it, and get buy-in from your staff and students.
If you already have a Flex Period or are considering one in your building, click here to schedule an informational call to learn how Edficiency helps schools like yours make flex time logistics easy and save you time.