As I was out walking on the weekend I was struck by the sight of a long line of ducks heading west along the West Vancouver shoreline. Seconds later they changed course and were heading east, still remaining in single file. It suddenly dawned on me that this could be the origin of the expression, ‘get your ducks in a row’. I was reminded of the importance of being organized and getting one’s ducks in a row and in fact that is exactly what we are doing in our schools these days. We are preparing for the next school year.
Last June we weren’t anticipating a change in the daily schedule for September, yet with directives from the Provincial Health Officer all districts had to re-think the organization of their school schedules in short order. This caught us off guard and we responded with thoughtful planning. With a quarter of the school year now behind us we have an opportunity to reflect on both the positive aspects and the challenges the adjusted schedule presented for staff and students. While we are adapting to our revised schedule we are continually learning about innovative ways of teaching and learning and this gift of experience will be powerful as we look ahead.
In the feedback provided by students they identified many positives associated with the quarter system. They reported that having fewer classes to focus upon is far more manageable. It appears that this results in less stress and in many cases deeper learning and higher achievement. We also hear that they find the classes long and somewhat intense and that they are getting too many Google Classroom notifications. As a staff we are addressing these concerns in order to make students’ experiences better moving forward.
Although most districts have adopted the quarter system each district has made its own adjustments to the schedule. One feature of the West Vancouver model is the inclusion of an X-block on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons which follows two shortened morning blocks. At Rockridge X-block is used for a variety of purposes including AP Seminars, delivery of the Careers curriculum, certain elective courses, tutorials, and support for our vulnerable learners. District Academies also run during X-Block, an ideal time for students from each of our high schools to come together to engage in areas of passion and interest.
X-Block provides students with choice as to how they use their time. This transfers the power and ownership from the teacher to the individual student thereby fostering learner agency. Each student feels actively responsible and in control of their own learning. In the survey students articulated the various ways they are using X-Block and it ranges from doing homework to getting help from their teachers. Ultimately they are learning the value of self-management skills, skills that are important throughout life.
Although there is some degree of uncertainty as to what the next school year will bring, we are having meaningful and thoughtful conversations with colleagues throughout the Lower Mainland. As Dr. Henry so often says, ‘We’re in this together’. Wherever we land we will be able to thoughtfully address the needs of our school community. Even though we have the heaviness of the pandemic hanging over all of us we have learned lessons that will impact our thinking. Despite the challenges, these are exciting times in education. We are at a juncture and have an unprecedented opportunity to explore possibilities based on our first quarter experiences. And of course we have the gift of time to get our ducks in a row.