The Ultimate Guide to Flex Periods in Middle + High School Schedules
Across the country, schools are reevaluating strategies for meeting their students’ needs and reconsidering the role time plays in doing so. Middle schools and high schools across the United States are reimagining their school schedules in a variety of ways. One strategy that continues to grow in popularity is implementing Flex Time Periods into their bell schedules, allowing teachers to get more time with the students that need it most while leaving room for student choice. In fact, we took a random sample of more than 8,300 middle and high schools across the United States and found that 59% of schools with a published bell schedule had a Flex Period of some kind.
In most schools that implement Flex Time Periods into their school schedule, principals, teachers, and students often say there is an adjustment period that takes place but quickly see the benefits once the right systems are in place and the kinks are worked out.
Flex Time Periods offer schools and students a lot of opportunities, but to ensure they have the desired impact, it’s important to have a strong understanding of the basics and how to effectively implement them.
Fortunately, that’s the purpose of this guide. We’ll help you understand the basics of Flex Time, prepare you to start (or improve) one in your school, and share some other helpful tips and information to give your school the boost it needs.
Feel free to continue reading in order or use the table of contents below skip ahead to the sections you’re most interested in.
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Table of Contents
- Considerations of Flex Periods
What Are Flex Periods?
A Flex Time Period is a set time in the daily schedule (usually around 20 to 45 minutes) where students go somewhere different each day (as opposed to always going to math for their first period, for instance). In its most basic form, a Flex Period is a superior version of the study hall. The advantage of the Flex Period is that a student can see a teacher that can actually help them with their work. On one day they might see their English teacher, whereas the next day they’d see their science teacher and the day after that their art teacher. Each day, the student can go see a different teacher better suited for the task-at-hand.
But a well-executed Flex Time Period is so much more. They provide opportunities that we all know are important but often struggle to fit into a traditional school schedule and try to do outside of regular school hours. While most commonly students go to different teachers for additional academic support, it is also common for students to participate in enrichment sessions, attend a review lesson on a sticky topic, meet with an advisor, make up class assignments for days missed, participate in club meetings, take part in special events they earned (like PBIS related rewards), and partake in other extracurricular activities, like sports.
While these can look slightly different in each school, usually the purpose is similar: to give students more tailored support and the ability to express their agency by exploring their interests.
For more information on what a Flex Time Period is, check out our post: What is a Flex Period?
Why Flex Periods Are Important
If you ask schools why Flex Periods are important, you’ll likely get a lot of answers, but the most common reasons you’ll hear are:
they give teachers more time with students that need additional support or opportunities for extension activities (response to intervention & enrichment opportunities)
they give students access to opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t have without staying after school (student choice)
they give students something to look forward to during the school day (social & emotional learning)
While not a lot of research has been done on Flex Periods specifically, you can see the 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. They found that 81.9% of the students agreed that flex blocks benefitted/supported them (an increase of 20% over 5 months of participating in one) and 78.2% of the teachers believed that they benefitted/supported students. They also saw a 6.4% drop in students feeling anxious about school after a year of implementing flex periods, likely because they also found that student connections with adults in the school increased from 74.6% to 82.5% having at least 1 connection with an adult in the building after 1 year of flex periods. They also found a 31% increase over the year (from 46.8% to 77.8%) in students balancing their school workload and managing their personal interests. Unsurprisingly, 81.8% of students agreed that their school should continue with their Flex Period at the end of the first year implementing one.
Because of this, it’s not shocking that when we surveyed schools (spring 2019), 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
For more information on the benefits of Flex Periods, check out our data and research-backed post on 19 Benefits of Flex Periods in Schools.
Other Popular Names for Flex Time
Flex Periods can go by many other names, which is most worth noting in case you’re looking for resources to inform how you implement them in your own school, whether looking for resources online or for other schools doing similar things. In some places, the generic Flex Period is the most popular, whereas others name the time after their school’s mascot (e.g. Raider Time). For schools that leverage time coinciding with lunch, Lunch & Learn and SMART Lunch are both popular. While other places use Intervention Period, Enrichment Period, Tutorials Period, WIN (What I Need) Time, or Activity Period, some places also start turning an Advisory Period into a Flex Period.
Want to find out which names are the most common and where? Check out the 5 Most Popular Flex Period Names here.
Who Flex Periods Are For
Flex Periods are most often geared towards middle schools and high schools, as they rotate through different teachers for different subjects. Given this, there is no technical cutoff for the grade levels that could engage in this type of period. Elementary schools are less likely given it’s less common to rotate teachers, especially in lower grades, and thus teachers can create this time from their schedule on their own as needed. Depending on the level of student choice, some schools also might be less inclined to leverage these periods for younger students given the cognitive abilities required to responsibly choose where you most need to go. That said, in a random sample of 2500 middle and high schools from the top 50 largest US metropolitan areas, middle and high schools were both just as likely to have a Flex Period, with roughly half of schools having a Flex Period of some kind.
When Flex Periods Happen
Most schools that implement a Flex Period have one every day, though many have them four days a week, reserving the fifth day for a Homeroom or more traditional Advisory. Some schools have them only once or twice a week with a smaller 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 possible, or practical, there can be multiple each day. When done this way, it is 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 set up multiple period schedules where students have access to both periods. In these scenarios, students are intended to take their lunch during one of the two periods with the option of taking advantage of two Flex Time Periods in a day if they’d like.
Where to Find Time for Flex Periods
There are several places middle and high schools typically find (or create) the time needed to implement a Flex Period in their schedules. While there are no specific rules around the number of minutes one dedicates to a Flex Period, they usually last at least 20-25 minutes on the lower end, which can be a good place to start. Below are some of the most common ways schools create the time for their Flex Periods:
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 every day 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 every day.
Below is one example of a school’s schedule before and after implementing a Flex Period, where they used a few minutes from each class period to create their schedule.
Want more details on where to find the time for flex periods? Check out the 6 Best Ways to Create Time for Flex Periods here.
Middle School Example Schedules
Below are three example schedules of middle school bell schedules with flex periods built-in.
In the example below, this Wisconsin-based school has a single Flex Period called Academic Focus. The school chose to schedule it for 30 minutes, compared to the 47-51 minutes given to their seven other periods dedicated to traditional classes. They also chose to include it late in the morning, right before their three 30-minute lunch periods begin, coinciding with their 5th period.
In the following example of a virtual schedule from a California-based school, the school has two types of Flex Periods built into their day, with a more traditional Flex Period, called MTSS / RTI, that happens in the middle of the school day twice a week, as well as some Student Support & Office Hours built-in at the end of the day. The MTSS / RTI Periods typically see the same students on both days in a week and focus more on providing interventions to those that need it, whereas the Student Support & Office Hours are a little less formal and a chance for students to check in with teachers when they have questions on things. They also have an Advisory Period built-in once a week on Wednesdays where students spend time with the same teacher and group of students, with most of their day otherwise spent in asynchronous learning. Because they’re virtual, they build in a single lunch period of 45 minutes to break up the day and limit their virtual classes to 45 minutes.
In this example from another school in Utah, they run a block schedule Monday through Thursday with a full slate of classes on Friday. Every day they have a single, 30-minute Flex Hour in their schedule at 9:50 and two 30-minute lunches, all of which remain at the same time every day regardless of whether it is a block day or not.
For more examples of middle school bell schedules with Flex Periods, check out our blog post with more examples here.
High School Example Schedules
Below are three example schedules of high school bell schedules with flex periods built-in.
In this example below from Nebraska, the school has a single Flex Period called Extra Learning Opportunities. The school chose to schedule it for 29 minutes, compared to the 48 minutes given to their eight other periods dedicated to regular classes. They also chose to include it at the end of the day, right before school lets out. This school also has four lunch periods built into their day, allocating only 24 minutes for each.
In the example below from Minnesota, the school has four Flex Periods, called Resource Periods, in their block schedule that consists of 4 regular classes, lasting 85 minutes each and changing at semester. The school chose to give their Resource Period 37 minutes and stagger them over four different start times that accommodate their four 30-minute lunch periods, all of which happens in conjunction with their third block. In this model, each student and teacher only participates in one of the Resource Periods, so it’s common for students to get academic support from teachers that they don’t have for a particular class when their assigned Resource Period doesn’t line up. While this may seem like it’s not ideal, when teachers of the same subjects work well together, it can be better for students as they get exposed to multiple methods of learning based on different teachers' specific techniques and explanations.
Below, this school in North Carolina has two 30-minute Flex Periods combined with their lunch periods, often referred to locally as a SMART Lunch model. They also have four classes that operate on a block schedule that changes at the semester. Their blocks are 88 minutes each, with the exception of the first block, which gets some extra time for settling in and daily announcements. In this model, students are expected to eat lunch during one of the two options and attend a tutoring, enrichment, or extracurricular session during the other, but it is common for students to take two lunch periods as well.
For more examples of high school bell schedules with Flex Periods, check out our blog post with more examples here.
Role of Administrators
Administrators are usually focused on the big picture, crafting the vision, building and overseeing the systems and tools, and overseeing the logistics and impact over time. In most circumstances, the building leader(s) are among the group leading the charge to get buy-in from the staff and students in the early phases. This is usually a principal, assistant principal, dean, secretary, and/or leadership team more broadly, which often consists of ‘lead” teachers. After getting the initial buy-in, administrators usually shift to the planning process, building out systems and seeking tools to ensure the Flex Time runs smoothly. Once Flex Periods are up and running in a building, administrators shift their focus to oversight, making sure teachers and students are using the time well. This usually includes ensuring teachers are planning accordingly and where they need to be each day, monitoring halls, tracking attendance, analyzing reports. It is also not uncommon for them to spend time observing classrooms, providing ongoing support and development to teachers, and engaging in difficult conversations with students and/or teachers to get them on the right track. Depending on school size, these tasks might be held by a single person or delegated across a group depending on which pieces mostly align with their regular role in the school.
Role of Teachers
Teachers are charged with ensuring the time is spent with the right group of students on the right activities. This means teachers will take note of students in their regular classes that might need additional support, whether it’s something as simple as a make-up test or assignment, something likely more complicated like remediating a lesson they missed, or providing additional opportunities like enrichment activities or meetings for clubs they sponsor. While it can look quite different from a traditional lesson plan depending on the day’s circumstances, they are responsible for planning how to spend the time, placing requests with the students they need to see using whatever system the school has set, and engaging with students.
Role of Students
The role of the student can vary a bit more depending on how much student choice the school has incorporated into its Flex Periods. In most cases, students have the option to express their preferences for where they’d like to go during this Flex Period in some way, whether by talking directly to a teacher, filling out a form, or through a software application. Whether students are given this option, they are responsible for knowing where to go each day and showing up as they would in any other class. Once there, their role is usually not different than it would be during any other class - engage in whatever activity is being asked of them by the teacher or staff member present.
How to Start a Flex Period
While starting a Flex Period can feel daunting at first, it’s not as complicated as you might think. We’ve broken down the steps needed to get one started, or ensure you’re maximizing the one you already have, below:
Identify Purpose + Goal(s)
Create the Schedule
Below we expand on each of these to help guide you through the process, but if you’d like a more in-depth take on how to get started or want a tool to guide you through each step in more detail, feel free to check out our How to Start a Flex Period post or download our Flex Period Planning Tool, which guides you through each step, feel free to do so. And if you’re wondering if they’re possible in virtual or distance learning environments, check out our How to Run Virtual Flex Periods post.
Step 1: Identify Purpose + Goal(s)
While it may be tempting to jump ahead to step 2, creating the schedule, we recommend starting with why you want to start a Flex Period and what you want to achieve. While having some ideas around the schedule at this stage can certainly be helpful, creating a new schedule usually means trade-offs of some kind, so it’s important to have a clear sense of your purpose to help make those often tricky decisions. While you might also want to bring some other people into this process, we recommend keeping the group somewhat small at this point, with your leadership team, or even a subgroup of them, being a great place to start. Starting here will help guide you through each subsequent step, even if you decide to jump between steps a bit to fit your needs.
To get started, first, reflect on why you think starting (or keeping) a Flex Period is important, what you hope it accomplishes, and the impact you hope to see in the short- and long-term. Write it down. Sit on it for a day or two. Talk to others that have a Flex Period at their school. Continue your online research. If you’re feeling stuck, our 19 Benefits of Flex Periods post might be a good place to spur some ideas.
Next, craft a purpose statement that feels right and you can come back to throughout the next steps in the process. If you’re struggling with what it should look like, try the one below, filling in the blanks:
Starting a flex period at (school name) will enable us to (insert primary purpose), while also (insert secondary purposes, if applicable).
Along with this, you should craft some supporting goals that inspire you, and ideally your staff, students, and larger school community. Don’t overcomplicate this. We’d recommend one to three and ensure they reiterate whatever your current goals are for the school as a whole. They could even be the goals you already have. If you find that they are somehow totally unrelated to your school’s current goals and vision, you should stop to consider if this is the right time to implement a Flex Period or the right strategy altogether. We also highly recommend that you make your goals “SMART.” If you’re unfamiliar with what SMART goals are, we recommend spending a few minutes familiarizing yourself with that concept through a quick web search (or you can check out this resource by Mind Tools which goes into more detail on the topic).
Step 2: Create the Schedule
After gaining clarity around what you want to accomplish by implementing a Flex Period, creating a draft schedule is a great next step, as it will help answer questions you’ll likely get from your staff, students, or broader school community as you start building buy-in with them (step 3). We covered most of the common places schools find time to create their schedule, and an example, in the Where to Find Time for Flex Periods section above and recommend scrolling back up if you didn’t already check it out. You also will likely go through some iterations of the schedule, especially as you bring more people into the process, and that’s OK.
Step 3: Build Buy-in
Getting buy-in from your team and community is among the most important steps in this process, but it’s worth noting that while you should start it early, it is an ongoing process that takes time. The most common groups of people you’ll need buy-in from are your staff, students, and students’ families. Getting buy-in from your staff will be very important, as you will need their buy-in to ensure they execute it well enough to achieve your goals. While you don’t necessarily need buy-in from 100% of your team at the onset, the more of your team that is bought-in early, the easier the process will be. And while you might not need initial buy-in from parents and students (planning to have them experience the benefits once you’ve begun), it’s important to consider these in case you receive unexpected pushback from these groups. It’s also important to remember that your staff likely has a lot of relationships with these groups and will need to address their concerns as you continue the process.
While you know your team and community better than anyone and will know what style works best for your leadership, we recommend that at a minimum you consider the motivations you can leverage and barriers you expect to encounter from each group. It might be helpful to think of the person in each group that is usually among the most excited to try new things and the person who is usually the most reticent to change. What do you expect each of them to say, whether to you or their peers? From there, you can start to craft your messaging and strategies to communicate with each group. We also recommend considering how to invest your early adopters first so they can help bring along those that might take a bit more convincing. Below is a sample graphic organizer you can try, or feel free to download our Flex Period Planning Tool.
Step 4: Prepare Logistics
Preparing the logistics is often among the most important steps, but can also feel the most overwhelming. Here you’ll want to think through all the systems and tools you’ll need to pull this off. You’ll need to define the people and roles they should play. This is where, at a minimum, you’ll decide how students are assigned for each Flex Period, how they will know where to go, and how staff knows where each student should be. Most schools give teachers and students some choice in the matter and try to prioritize teacher requests over student requests. And while it’s common for schools to use online surveys, spreadsheets, and other docs, some also try offline tools like paper passes or planners. Fortunately, there is also software designed for this specific purpose that will simplify and organize this process to make it easier for you and your team. Edficiency even automates the process so your team doesn’t have to spend more time on logistics and can focus on the decisions you hired them to make. Our Flex Period Planning Tool also outlines some key questions to reflect on and ensure you don’t miss a key part of the logistics required to pull this off successfully.
Step 5: Develop Norms
Lastly, once logistics have been planned and you have your tools, it’s important to set norms with your building for how everyone engages in the system to execute it smoothly. When should teachers expect to make requests for students? When should students expect to know where they are assigned? What kinds of sessions are considered most important? Which are off-limits during this time? What should class sizes look like? What should happen when someone is absent, both when it’s known ahead of time or only last minute?
After deciding on the norms you want your team to abide by, it’s also important to communicate them. Most of the time, we recommend drafting them with a small group, like your leadership team or a subcommittee, and then sharing them in-person so your team can ask clarifying questions and/or give some feedback. Then it’s important to have them written in a place that's accessible to everyone. This will make abiding by them and holding people accountable to them easier for everyone. Most schools leverage online documents or spreadsheets (like Google Docs), but schools should leverage whatever is easiest and most routine for their context.
Considerations of Flex Periods
There are many benefits of Flex Periods, which is likely why they have become so popular in recent years. Several of them are outlined above in the Why Flex Periods are Important section. And while this is true, there are still several considerations to starting a Flex Period, outlined below.
First, starting a Flex Period means that time is going to be taken from somewhere else. While this is likely obvious, it’s worth noting. If you aren’t willing to make trade-offs in the schedule somewhere, a Flex Period is likely not a good fit for your building. Whether you shorten classes, passing periods, or lunch periods, repurpose your Advisory/Homeroom time, or even extend your school day, you’re signaling that this is more important than whatever it took time from, so it’s an important consideration when deciding if it’s right for your school.
Secondly, it’s important to consider what school goals a Flex Period supports and why you want to start one in your building. If you don’t think a Flex Period will help you achieve your goals, whatever they might be, then it’s likely not a good idea to start one. Or, if you don’t consider your goals as you create operational norms and structures that support your goals, it won’t achieve what you’re looking for. Make sure you consider this as you get started to ensure not to waste your time.
Thirdly, Flex Periods require a new set of norms and systems to ensure they can effectively operate in your building, run smoothly, and achieve the desired results you’re looking for. You need to know how you’ll make the different moving pieces work and what will guide the decisions to ensure the systems you design are aligned to your intentions. You’ll also need the right tools to make it happen, whether that’s spreadsheets and forms/surveys, paper passes and tracker, or a web-based platform, like Edficiency, that organizes and automates the systems.
Lastly, Flex Periods also require some new roles and actions from your staff to ensure they are executed according to plan. It’ll also be important to ensure your team knows what is expected of them and the specific roles they play in the process, whether they’re a teacher or administrator or office staffer. No matter the systems and tools you choose, it will require changes in behavior. In most cases, this will be both technical and adaptive changes, so training your team (and ensuring you build in the right time) will be necessary.
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 needed 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.
BONUS: The History of Flex Time
While tracing back the origins of Flex Time in schools is pretty difficult, it’s most likely that it was born out of the Flexible Modular (or Flex Mod) Scheduling movement in the 1960s. The Flex Mod model broke the school day up into many small (10-20 minute) modules throughout the day where classes (and sometimes other activities) are a set of combined modules that can be of any length and happen at any set times throughout the week (e.g. a science class could have a lecture from 9:00-9:40 on Mondays, another at 2:00-3:10 on Tuesdays, and a lab on Fridays from 10:00-11:30). During modules when students did not have an assigned class, they were often given the flexibility to go to a study hall or meet with teachers who also had a break at that time. Given this, a student’s schedule often looks quite different every day of the week, though generally their schedule each week is the same.
According to Teaching Mathematics in the Block, by Susan Nicodemus Gilkey and Carla Herndon Hunt (2013), this model grew in popularity during the 1960s where approximately 15% of schools were using the Flex Mod schedule. While there were many benefits of this schedule and some schools still use it today, the scheduling challenges, management issues that came with large amounts of unstructured time, and lack of training for teachers to shift to this model have caused it to wane in popularity over the years. Despite the Flex Mod structure not taking off, it’s likely that the Flex Time that was offered in this more complicated schedule led to Flex Periods being implemented in the more traditional block schedules that most US schools use today, as most of the benefits are still achieved while minimizing the challenges presented by the other schedule.
Flex Periods continue to grow in popularity because they can enable schools to do much more with their most precious resource: time. There is no single “right” way to do things and schools often customize them to meet their specific needs. Despite the uniqueness that exists in each school, there are still plenty of common best practices and trends that are worth learning to maximize them in your building.
As you consider starting a Flex Period or think through improving upon the one you already have, remember that we’re here to help.