01 October 2015

Fixed vs Flexible Scheduling: Try a Combo

Here's that rant. Let me start with a little background.

For my first two years as a school librarian, I was a big cheerleader for flexible scheduling. And why not? I'd been told throughout my time earning my master's degree that flexible scheduling was the thing. Plus, I was part of a specials rotation on a fixed schedule provided to me by my administration. I saw all the downsides to operating a school library under a fixed schedule. But then I changed schools and I was free of fixed scheduling. I also started to change my thinking. I started to question whether flexible scheduling is really all it's cracked up to be. 

Given the freedom to decide what sort of schedule I wanted to have in my new library, I finally gave some real thought to the issue. I knew about librarians who used a flexible schedule and loved it. And these were people I had a lot of respect for. But I also knew about other librarians who saw every student every week and also loved their schedule. These librarians made their own schedule and were not part of a specials rotation. Is it really fair to call these types of schedules fixed? Some refer to these schedules as flexi-fixed. And since I can't think of a better term, that's what I'll use for the rest of this post rant. I ultimately decided to go with a flexi-fixed schedule*. And I'm convinced I made the right decision. For me. And my school. And my students. That doesn't mean it's right for everyone (obviously). But this is a rant, so I'll continue with why I think my way is better than your way.

* I should mention now that I'm fortunate enough to work in a small school. We have about 400 students and 25 classes (PK - 5). I can see every student each week and I still have time to wear my other hats.

The precipitant of this rant was hearing (for the umpteenth time) a librarian mentioning that it is a requirement that schools operate under a flexible schedule. And I just wonder if all these people are wanting a flexible schedule for the right reasons. Are they planning to do amazing projects with their students over the course of several consecutive days? To work on multi-day collaborative lessons with other schools through the powers of the internets? To have just as many, if not more, visitors than under their current fixed schedule? Or will fewer students come to the library after this glittery flexible schedule is enthroned? That's my fear. Will some classes be "too busy" to make it to the library? How long might their absence last? 

Students at my school don't always have the freedom to come to the library for an individual visit. The morning is a busy time and some students have just enough time to make it to breakfast and then to their classroom. The academic day operates under a rigid schedule and there's plenty to accomplish. The afternoon is the same as the morning: just enough time to make it to the bus or car rider line or to walk home. If I depended on individual visits alone, my library might grow cobwebs. There are lots of school libraries who live with this reality. I do have my regular customers who come on individual visits several times a week. But I want every student to visit the library every week. And that's what my flexi-fixed schedule allows. 

So, what is this flexi-fixed schedule of which I speak? It's fixed in the sense that I see every class every week on a set day and at a set time. BUT... there are several factors that make this different from I've been describing as a fixed schedule. Librarians and teachers don't get a say in fixed schedules. They do with flexi-fixed. I meet with teachers at the beginning of each year to determine a convenient day/time. We take into account collaborative teachers, when students might be pulled out of class, and what sorts of lessons we might do in the library to make up for missed time in the classroom. There's no flexibility in fixed schedules. Classroom teachers have to have their planning time, so there's no room for negotiation. Under my flexi-fixed schedule, if I have a meeting or other obligation, I can reschedule a class. I like having the ability to talk to a teacher and work out an alternative if needed. 

Another advantage of flexi-fixed over fixed is that teachers stay in the library for my lessons. Not only do they know I'm teaching valuable lessons, they also help teach and manage. And having teachers in the library is the primary way I help spread tech tools throughout my school. When teachers see how easy it is to use Flipgrid to respond to a book, they start asking how they might use it in the classroom. Having teachers in the library means they discover new books from my read-alouds. It means they actually have time to use the library themselves. It means there is a connection between the library and the classroom. So, co-teaching is just as easy under flexi-fixed as it is with flexible scheduling. 

I can see the advantages of a flexible schedule. But I can also envision some possible downsides. And I think we can all agree that a fixed schedule provided by an administration is the absolute worst. School librarians under fixed schedules and part of a specials rotation, I encourage you to continue to fight for your freedom to make your own schedule. And when you make that schedule, I hope you'll consider using a flexi-fixed model. You'll ensure every student in your school visits the library on a weekly basis. The teachers in your school will be aware of how awesome you are and can collaborate with you on lessons. And, I suppose most importantly, the world will not stop spinning. It's okay to not want a flexible schedule. It's oh-kay. 

I'll leave you with a little chart to help you keep score: