Innovative Class Scheduling Update

In January, we shared with the SMH community that we were beginning to evaluate and prioritize our school’s class schedules as outlined in our 2018 strategic plan. For the past several months, we have been working diligently to build a dynamic new schedule. Together, we have analyzed our current program, studied the research on how to optimize student learning, considered best practices, engaged students in focus groups, and designed several viable models with faculty and staff. Over the last several weeks, our faculty and leadership team have been focused on every aspect of the student experience to design a schedule that truly fits SMH and our long-term mission as a school.

As we near the end of this school year and look forward to the next, we are close to finalizing our schedule. While the finer details are not ready yet, we would like to reflect on the goals of this new schedule. Overall, we are guided by the belief that a new schedule should:

  • promote academic excellence and quality of the school’s programming;
  • focus on student wellness and homework load;
  • allow for innovation, reflective learning, and intellectual curiosity;
  • provide community time and learning opportunities on and off campus; and
  • enhance time for faculty and student collaboration.

With these macro goals in mind, each division also had their own goals and needs for the new schedule.

Upper and Middle School

In Middle and Upper School, the focus of the schedule has been finding ways to optimize student learning and wellness. How do we balance preparing students for the rigorous demands of a college course load while still allowing students time to participate in extracurricular activities, student organizations, and of course, social lives?

For Saint Mary's Hall, the ideal Middle and Upper School schedule will:

  • support multidisciplinary learning;
  • support an appropriate curriculum;
  • support quality instruction in the disciplines through the expanded and flexible use of time;
  • promote student development and supportive relationships; and
  • promote quality teacher collaboration.

Speaking on the Upper School’s goals for the new schedule, Head of Upper School Brent Spicer said:

“We are looking for a way to help students engage fully and deeply with their learning in a less-frenetic pace so as to make their learning last. We also want to factor in dedicated time for important, non-academic learning/growing such as Advisory, wellness, health, Chapel, etc. These are necessary parts of our students’ journey that too often can take a backseat to academics, which is not the kind of balanced educational approach we want to take. Our new schedule will allow for stronger programming that won’t be in competition with academic time.“

Head of Middle School Sarah Visagie added:

“We want to create a schedule that is developmentally appropriate for the Middle School in terms of length of classes, provides the opportunity for exploration and discovery, and adheres to the need for flexibility due to the changing needs of this age group. The ideal schedule would include daily interaction with advisors, no more than three core classes a day, have vertical rotation of classes, have approximately 60-70 minute-long classes, unstructured down time/recess, and allow for time to meet with teachers and get extra help, and reflection. The schedule would also feature a pause between classes to focus on what is coming next, and time at the end of the day to pack up and not feel rushed to get to important after-school activities. Around our three core classes, students will have more time for study hall and faculty office hours, daily unstructured time for Advisory so advisors and students can create more meaningful relationships, and flexibility to build upon the schedule to create more opportunities for exploration and discovery in the future.”

Lower School

In Lower School, the focus of the new schedule is to allow students the maximum amount of time on learning topics. In addition, it allows a more balanced approach to all activities, classes, and specials, all while prioritizing time in the student’s homeroom. While a Lower School schedule will be less structured than a Middle or Upper School schedule, the new schedule gives a strategic, platform for the Lower School to maximize the robust program offerings for our youngest Barons.

For Saint Mary's Hall, the ideal Lower School schedule will:

  • prioritize time in Home Room;
  • strive for larger learning time;
  • divide the day into thirds; and
  • minimize transitions.

In referring to the Lower School’s goals for the new schedule, Head of Lower School Khristi Bates said:

“We are working to create a student-centered schedule for Lower School which makes social and emotional learning and connection central to the classroom community and allows time and flexibility for students to take a deeper dive into learning. The ideal Lower School schedule will be set up in an eight-day rotation with specials, recess, and lunch set at specific times every day. Core subjects would be taught at various times of the day throughout the rotation to allow all students an opportunity to receive content instruction that best suits their optimal learning time. Specials, recess, and lunch will be thoughtfully and strategically placed in the day to allow longer blocks of uninterrupted learning as well as for interdisciplinary learning. Creating longer blocks of core learning, the schedule would provide opportunities for flexibility, spontaneity, and creativity. Specifically, the ideal Lower School schedule will allow more time for homeroom teachers and students to create a strong classroom community and sense of belonging; time for deeper dives into learning, collaboration, and connection; and time to allow space each day for calm reflection, celebration, and closure. Finally, the Lower School needs time for faculty and staff to collaborate and brainstorm innovative ways to improve student learning and achievement.”

How We Got Here: The Scheduling Process

We are excited to be nearly ready to share the new schedule with you. From the initial study of our programs and day-to-day with Independent School Management (ISM), to gathering feedback from each of our students, to analyzing the data to make decisions about the schedule, the process has been intensive, strategic, and involved. I am so grateful to my faculty colleagues for the countless hours they have spent these past few months, truly designing a schedule to fit our school environment. 

This initiative has helped us craft a schedule that will move Saint Mary’s Hall forward, not only as the best place for student academics, but also student wellbeing and community.

The science of learning is clear that students learn best when they have close relationships, are known in a community, and have time for their learning to become deeply understood and ingrained. If you are interested in learning more about some of the latest research that we have considered in shaping our new schedule, I recommend Make it Stick, by Peter Brown, Henry Roediger, and Mark McDaniel. You might be surprised by what recent research has indicated is the best way for students to learn. 

What’s Next?

We’re almost ready to move across the finish line. We will soon be sharing the final schedules with our families to properly envision what the 2021-2022 school year will look like for their students. We are confident that the new schedule will achieve our goals and enhance the student experience.