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"Committing to The Air": An update on our scheduling process

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Mike swings by my office a few times a week, busts through the door and yells, “Trace! Coffee?” I used to look at the clock, figure out if I had time to walk to Mission Beach Cafe, look for my wallet—now I just get up and go. The five-minute walk to Mission Beach is not only a fun time to connect about important things like which one of our heroes we will be for the Blue Party, but it’s a time to connect about more challenging things that come up, too. The most important reason to go these days is to connect with our neighborhood community—the crew at Mission Beach. They know that Mike likes a coffee in the morning and a mocha in the afternoon; they know that I require a low-fat tea latte, a drink that I love, but am too embarrassed to order in earshot of others. They offer us high fives and advice that one can only gain from devoting time to human connection.

Recently one of our favorite baristas at Mission Beach, Brian, was telling us that he used to go to circus school. This is where I would normally have tuned out and thought, “I’m way too busy for this.” But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from Mike this year, it’s that moments like this are when you need to tune in, not out. Brian goes on to explain circus school and that his trapeze teacher was this inspiring fellow who would always tell his students, “When you are letting go of one trapeze bar and have not yet caught the next, you need to ‘commit to the air.’” Mike and I looked at each other as if to acknowledge silently the golden nugget of advice Brian just delivered to us.

On our walk back to school, we talked about how we might apply this nugget to our day ahead. I figured I’d try to apply it to my biggest challenge—revising our daily school schedule. We know that our schedule, particularly our middle school schedule, does not reflect the way we want to spend our time; it doesn’t support teacher collaboration and it keeps our students moving, too quickly, throughout their day. I dare any of you to shadow a middle schooler through the school day and not fall flat on your face by 3:15pm. At Friends we’ve known we want a less siloed approach to time, but we’ve been unsure how to create exactly that. How could I commit to the air regarding scheduling? I could reach out to Ross Peters.

Ross is a guy who has a really informative and entertaining blog about education, music and travel. He is the Head of School at St. George’s Independent School in Tennessee and in addition to being a great writer, he has also guided a number of independent schools through a very successful schedule redesign.

I emailed Ross Peters and crossed my fingers he’d agree to a phone call. His blog posts and videos all pointed to someone who really understood leadership, community, school life, and time. Ross called me back and offered nugget after nugget of information and advice—take all administrators off of the committee, small change is just as hard as big change, and once the committee puts forth a schedule, close the door to the old schedule—no going back. He might as well quit his job and join the team at Mission Beach. His words not only made me feel confident that we could build a schedule on our own, but he convinced me that doing the work of building the schedule together, as a community, would be the single thing that made the schedule successful. The work is not just about the final product, but it’s about trusting the process and bringing people along.

Nick, Courtney, Amabelle, Jodi, Jason, Jennifer S., and David are leading us in redesigning time at San Francisco Friends School. They’ve been given just two criteria from the administration team:

  • To deepen student engagement and offer more applied experiences in the interest of enriched understanding, the schedule should offer experiences less hurried and fragmented and more robust in coherence, depth, and application in all aspects of learning.
  • In order to create an optimal culture and learning environment for students, the schedule should further support the development and collaborative engagement of the professional community.

The rest is up to them. They will be interviewing teachers, parents, and students, all while visiting schools and companies to look closely at their uses of time. We will implement a new schedule, designed solely by our own team, for the 2019-2020 school year. You’ll be hearing more from all of us in the coming months. And while we don’t exactly know where this work will lead us or what the 2019-2020 schedule will look like, we do know one thing: at this point, we’ve fully committed to the air.