When – the magic of Timing – thoughts for ISB scheduling

I have just completed reading Daniel Pink’s book When – the Scientific secrets of Perfect Timing.  A number of super book reviews can quickly tell you the summary or takeaways from Pink’s book like this one or you could go to his website to get a better idea of the book itself.   The book is not about the WHY of timing but about the importance of WHEN we time things – starting with the idea of Time itself.  Pink and his team have done a lot of research and present it in a well-crafted book with evidence, ideas and then at the end of each chapter some ways in which we could all use the information to ponder or take action.

This year, our Middle school is delving into our schedule and really the questions we are asking are What makes a super Middle School?  How are we engaging and inspiring our learners?  What do we know about MS students, timetables, subjects, growth, learning …. and how are we best serving those at ISB?  (well I am pondering these questions… :))  Reading When has certainly given me some things to think about and consider as we look at how best to serve our population.

The timing of our Day

I love the mornings.   For the last 3 years, I have risen by 5.30am and headed off for some sort of exercise most mornings.  It is usually quiet in my house, the roads are clear of traffic and I can either move into my flow zone and work hard on my ride or run set or hang out and race some friends or meditate with some yoga or other stretching routines.  I then get some caffeine in me and get off to work.  I am attentive to my own family – I try and listen to them in the mornings when they tell me what is expected today and try and overcome challenges that we might (where is my violin? homework? cat? etc).  Once at school the morning presents more positive lesson times or time for getting ‘hard’ work done (blog post writing, grading, creating lesson content, analysing models or making decisions with colleagues).  Once I get to lunch time I am done.  What I really need is downtime.  I realise the days that I have lunch duty and get outside and hang out with students or get into the pool for a swim set always set me up for a more positive afternoon than sitting to eat lunch.  My afternoon classes, meetings or coaching sessions are hard work.  I am still figuring out how to best motivate myself or which caffeine or other to take to be much more engaged.  If the meeting I have is a sit-down-and-listen affair where we have to make decisions, then things go from bad to worse.

The research is apparently very clear: Timing is not equal for each of us – we have to know more about our own circadian rhythms and how to best use our time. Pink writes that “Our performance varies considerably over the course of the day, and what task to do at a certain time really depends on the nature of the task. If we look at the evidence, we can be doing the right work, at the right time.”    We have to first find out if we are Larks (early risers), Owls (late night people) or somewhere in the middle.  This article explains Pink’s research and a simple exercise you can do to find out which you are.  But we also know that adolescents evolve to be much more Owl like.  Pink writes that “The Center for Disease Control has written about how [early school start time] has an effect on everything from car crashes to obesity to depression. Big reductions in dropout rates. Improvements to standardized test scores. Even things like reduced car crashes among teenagers. And so, this is another case where timing isn’t everything, but it’s a big thing.”  If we are all about optimal student learning we must consider the time that we start school and at what time our students are getting up to catch buses to school for that start time.  If we know that they are more Owl like and stay up later and therefore go to bed later, we must consider how to craft time for them to have 8+ hours of sleep with this in mind.

The graph above is important as we look at our school schedule and consider when to schedule in specific subjects and break times.  Pink suggests that analytical subjects should be covered in the morning and more creative subjects in the afternoons.  I find it interesting that Dr. John Ratey in his book Spark is a huge advocate for fitness/ exercise in the mornings before school to link together exercise and brain function but that Pink suggests that PE could be completed in the afternoon sessions along with more creative and less analytical subject time.  As a teacher, it is clear that our administration could also look at when they have faculty meetings and think about when they are scheduled for the most maximal effect.  If we are looking to make some serious decisions in our meetings, we have to schedule them in the mornings.  If we are meeting to edit documents, clean up equipment rooms, set up for new lessons in the mornings etc then an afternoon meeting would be great.

If our Middle School started at a different time to the Elementary and High School’s I wonder what that might look like.  Other schools have tried and tested this and it would be worth ISB contacting them about this to see how we could ensure the best timing of our school day for our students.

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