Emerging and Evolving Schedules

ASIDE: In this post, I am trying to hash out an idea in my head, and explain something that I do that is not exactly very easy to explain.  The explanation is rough, and it is a work in progress.  Please critique and ask any questions is something is not clear.  Like everything that I write, it is my own interpretation.  I am not saying it is the right way, merely it is my way.  I celebrate all ways and all styles of teaching, learning, and knowing.  END ASIDE.

School is loaded with schedules.  Scheduled classes, meetings, toilet breaks, eating times, break times, exercise time, etc etc etc etc.  Everything is scheduled down to the last minute.  Some might say it is organized.  I call it oppressive.  For me.  We are all different, and those differences should be celebrated in a school.  But, how can we celebrate and allow freedom to someone who sees a schedule as a constraint?  In a school!

I hate school schedules.  As soon as you say when something has to happen, you miss other possibilities of what might have happened.  And to me, the might have and other possibilities are what make life so interesting.  The best moments in the class (and in my life) and things that I could have never planned or scheduled in a million years.  Kath Murdoch spoke about this on Inquire Within.  So, how do we take this idea and create an environment where these unplanned and unscheduled moments are allowed to arise (or not)?

This is how I occasion emergence in the classroom.  Firstly, there is a lot of history and thought behind the term occasion emergence, which I will elaborate on in a later post.  For now, lets just say that you can’t control an emergent phenomonom, but you can provide an atmosphere where it may arise.

Occasioning Emergence

The first thing I have done is to take the schedule down in the classroom.  Well, not completely.  I keep it up, but the only thing I write on it are the specialist classes where the kids aren’t with me.  The rest of the spaces are filled with Smily Faces :)

Yes, I have a blackboard and chalk in my class!

At any given time, the kids have no idea what subject we are going to study, and hopefully during the class they don’t make distinctions between subjects and are thinking trans-disciplinary.  But, the teacher needs to know what we are working on, right?  Yes.  Well, kind of.  Not always.

I create a little chart of the materials I have prepared and the projects or lessons we need to work on or get to.  It is hard to explain what it looks like, because it is an absolute mess and makes sense only to me.  So I  have simplified it below:

Work on the go or in the hole

From this, I know that these are the things I need to get to in the coming days.  Also, based on the size, I give them a ranking of importance (usually based on time constrictions from 3rd party schedules!).  In this diagram, the cultural research project is the most important thing we need to get to, and our short stories would be the least important.  With this information, I have a multitude of plans ready to go.  I am ready to go with the flow and see what unfolds.

First thing in the morning, or after recess or lunch, I sit down on the carpet with my kids and we have two minutes of quiet time (clear your mind and see how many channels of sound you can hear).  After that, we chat.  I ask them about recess.  I ask them about last nights homework.  I ask them what they had for lunch.  I start a conversation and then I get them talking to each other about the a topic.  Sometimes the topics are irrelevant and odd (if you had to switch feet with an animal, what animal would you chose?).  The point is not the conversation.  The point is to judge their current frame of mind and their mood.  What is the basic feeling in the room?  What emotions are they experiencing?  Where are their minds at in this particular place, time, and moment?

With that information, after I have judged the mood of the group, I choose what subject we will study.  This morning, the class was chatting about a video they watched on Youtube.  They were in a goofy, funny mood.  So, I chose to do our skit about Hyperbole and let them channel that humor into their work.   If they were feeling tired and quiet, I would have given the private time to work on their short stories.  If they were in curious mood, I would have allowed them to jump into their research project and start writing.  The point is, I have the options in front of me, and the flexibility to go in many different directions.  I am still attached to a schedule, but I am trying to break free of it as much as I can.  When I sit down in front of a class of kids with no plan, it is not that I don’t have a plan, but rather I have 5-6 plans.  I just haven’t chosen which one I am going to do yet.  Also, if something interesting or different arises, well, we go in that direction and I add a new layer to my graph with a new idea and project.

Most importantly, it is guided not by my mood as the teacher, but by the students moods as learners.  Is is perfect?  No.  Do I misread the class?  Yes.  Is everybody always feeling the same way?  Of course not.

Those problems don’t stop me from trying.  It forces me to pay attention to the dynamics of the learning system in front of me.  Most importantly, it is personal, and it is my style.  Some teachers need lots of structure and schedules, and that is fine with me.  Their are many ways to do it, and as soon as we start to standardize approaches to education, and take the power away from the teacher, we lose an important element of what makes learning so much fun.  My ultimate message is this; if students are free to learn and express themselves in their own way, shouldn’t teachers be allowed to teach in their own way?

I am reminded of the greatest advice I ever received from one of the best teachers I have ever worked with, JoMcq.  She said to me, “You can’t teach something you don’t embody.”

About Craig

In Kyoto 京都
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7 Responses to Emerging and Evolving Schedules

  1. ibdanmagie says:

    I loved this line of your posting: “Those problems don’t stop me from trying. It forces me to pay attention to the dynamics of the learning system in front of me.”

    My challenge is attempting to have this type of approach in a Middle School Schedule, where we see the students for specific blocks of time (either 50 or 100 minutes)…I see the ‘whole timetable’ needing to be ‘flexible’ to make this work, and that would require all the staff to be behind this approach. That is my goal as I continue to take on leadership roles within schools!

    Thanks for sharing,


  2. Lori May says:

    Your spontaneity based on perception of the group’s mood is nice. I am wondering how much the students are accomplishing and if you find it is enough time to get to what must be done. Do you have any playground duties? I am sure this type of classroom could be quite nerve racking for a student who gains confidence with routine; however, with the right classroom culture (of supporting the unknown, surprise, excitement, curiosity, wonder) this can be exactly what many students need! Kudos for working outside the box!


  3. @dwyerteacher says:


    Yeah, I can imagine how it would be difficult in a middle school environment or a high school. To be honest I don’t have a lot of experience with it, but I am sure there are some schools that are experimenting with some interesting ideas… difficult does not mean impossible.


    They get a lot done. If we are coming up to the end of the unit, I don’t always choose based on the mood. Sometimes we have to get it done, so we do it! As for the kids who crave structure and routine, yes, you are right. It may be a bit of a shock to the system. I think that as the year has progressed, the structure has faded away and it is becoming more easy-going. At the beginning of the year, it was a bit more structured. As for next year, should I start with the structure and then slowly let go of it, or should jump right in to the openness on the first day? I have no idea. Depends on the class I guess.


    • ibdanmagie says:

      Nice, “difficult does not mean impossible”.

      One small thing we have attempted is “flex time”. Every-other Wednesday afternoon there is no regularly scheduled classes. Teachers sign up for 1 or 2 hour blocks to do anything that want with their students, usually related to their UOI. This is just a small piece towards your flexibility…I think the next step would be “Flex Afternoons” maybe every-other afternoon…or something like that. The key will be persuading staff to see the value so students are consistently engaged in learning experiences during those “flex” times.

      Thanks for helping me think,


  4. Kirsten says:

    I plan very much the same way as you! To further extend this kind of flexibility I maintain a list with the class of things we are working on (ie where the children are ready to work on something independently) and give the children time each day to choose what they are going to complete in what order. In addition to providing the flexibility and freedom for children to work on things that suit their moods this helps them develop a strong sense of responsibility, time management, and organizational skills. I also have time to work with individuals and small groups as needed, and don’t have to worry about kids coming and saying ‘I’m done, what next’. Finally, it makes planning for a replacement teacher much easier, as it usually looks like this: have the students work off the “work in progress list”.


  5. kathmurdoch says:

    It seems to me you have a lovely balance between structure and flexibility….in fact I think there is some strange harmony that is created by the juxtaposition of planning and spontaneity or rescheduling…the former allowing a safe space for the latter to emerge. I think the best inquiry teachers I know are highly TUNED IN to their students as well as themselves. This sounds like mindfulness in action to me…noticing and honouring the mood, the ‘feeling’… and moving with that rather than being over-driven by external pressure to do a certain thing at a designated time. The added benefit of this approach to managing time is that you are giving your students more opportunities to be self managing and mindful of their own internal world and its impact on their readiness to engage in different kinds of tasks. This self knowledge is fundamental to the growth of the effective inquirer. Thanks for sharing.


  6. tashacowdy says:

    I love this post. Over the years I have taught students from pre-school to Grade 5, and one of the things I particularly enjoy about the younger years is the room for flexibility in scheduling. I find it gets so much more difficult higher up in the school. Therefore I have a huge amount of respect for you in managing your schedule much as I manage the schedule in my Kindergarten class. I wasn’t as flexible when I taught older children. I thought it was the nature of the beast, but your post has shown me that the beast can be managed if the teacher is creative and flexible enough! I particularly love how how you are guided by the moods of your students. There are some similarities between your approach and our approach to involving students in scheduling through daily class meetings. http://blogs.yis.ac.jp/cowdyt/2012/05/27/morning-meetings/ Thanks for posting this!


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