Why Schools Should Rethink the Use of Classroom Time

Why Schools Should Rethink the Use of Classroom Time

Before I begin to ruminate on the title of this post- are you familiar with the work of Cal Newport? His book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, changed the way I think about my use of personal time. I highly recommend it. Its premise is simple, we live in the Age of the Knowledge Worker, in which our highest value to society is the ability to apply our understanding to solve problems and think critically.  Our fragmented attention deters us from doing something well, and thus if we want to work at our highest levels, then we must “drain the shallows” of our life and put the focus on developing the skills the understanding that will move us forward in our work and passions through ruthless command of our schedules and excavating frivolous habits that waste our time and do not produce any benefit in our lives.

Since reading this book, I systematically eke out time in which I can do research and reading to improve my craft as an educator. The more I work with the principles of Deep Work, the more I wonder how it can be applied to my classroom.

As an avid fan of his blog, I have to share an excerpt of a recent post:

A Tale of Two Schedules

In 2009, tech investor Paul Graham published an influential essay titled “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule.” In this piece, he argued that the best types of schedules for people who makes things are different than the best schedules for those who manage things.

As Graham elaborates:

“The manager’s schedule is…embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you’re doing every hour…”

“…But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started.”

He then delivers the key conclusion: “When you’re operating on the maker’s schedule, meetings are a disaster.”

Though Graham doesn’t mention it specifically in the essay, we might add that the need to keep up with an inbox or chat channel can be equally disastrous to a maker. The constant context switching, as we now know from research, also prevents the maker’s brain from fully engaging the creative task at hand.

In the years since this essay was published, it has spread widely. The (slightly modified) terms maker schedule and manager schedule are well-known, and most people who deal with both types of workers agree that Graham is speaking the truth: if you want someone to make something valuable, they’ll be most effective if you let them work in long, uninterrupted chunks.

But here’s the thing: almost no organizations support maker schedules.

Speaking of organizations…ahem, let’s talk about schools, shall we? What does your school timetable look like?- Are you creating “makers” or “managers” in your school? And, is one type better than the other, you might ask?–what am I implying here?

This is actually tricky to articulate but I’m wondering about my students’ futures. Managing seems to go with manufacturing, which I believe automation will make so many of those jobs obsolete. So developing their time organization skills seems more relevant as a “maker”.

But I am reminded of the words of Katie Wood Ray, a passionate educator of young writers, who says:

We need to talk about time in our conversations about the teaching of writing. Time is not just when writing instruction happens in school; time must be part of the curriculum, part of what students are learning about as they develop as writing. You see, it doesn’t really matter how many craft lesson or genre studies a teacher plans for students if she doesn’t first teach them how to sit down in chairs, stay there for a long time, and make some work for themselves that leads to writing. With blank paper in front of them, students have to leave how to make something out of nothing, and they must learn to come back the next day and do it again. The curriculum of time is fairly simple: Sit. Stay. Put something on the paper.

Excerpt from her book In Pictures and In Words: Teaching the Qualities of Good Writing

As a teacher of young students, I wholeheartedly agree that we must instill in our students’ a desire and curiosity in order for them to develop stamina and elaboration/experimentation in their work.  They must learn how to focus. I think ahead to next school year, I know I want to create habits of critical thinking and deep work, in which students approach their learning with the willingness to engage in the effort to create something. I know that some schools have Genius Hour or have special occasions such as Day of Design, but what if there were more embedded opportunities within a day to do something like this? Not only am I refreshing myself in the workshop model, but I am spending some time this summer considering how I might cultivate this habit and how I might structure it in the classroom. I want them to have the time to think and create artifacts of their learning that matter to them, that communicate who they are and what they care about. I want them to be intentional with their time.

I believe that we owe to our students to analyze our school timetables and consider if we are helping or harming our students in preparing for their future work. Are we bobbing from subject to subject or are we offering them chunks of the day dedicated to learning? Can we cultivate curiosity and carve out long blocks of time in which students can explore ideas and projects that matter to them and yet still move them forward in developing skills and knowledge?

What do you think? How does your school or your classroom develop time management skills in students? Do you think block time is successful in creating a culture of Deep Work? 

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Judy Imamudeen

Judy Imamudeen

Developing learners as leaders is my joy! As a highly qualified International Baccaluearate (IB) teacher and educational leader, I am committed and passionate about executing its framework and empowering students in creating a future world that works for everyone.

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