School Library Media Activities Monthly/Volume XXIV, Number 5/January 2008
Flexible Scheduling: Making the Transition
by Peggy Milam Creighton
Peggy Milam Creighton, Ed.S., NBCT, is the library media specialist at Compton Elementary School in Powder Springs, GA. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
My husband is a staunch supporter of fixed scheduling in my library media center. It isn't that he doesn't know my feelings or the district policy, both of which favor flexible scheduling; but he thinks that if I have a fixed schedule, I'll be assured of having a regular lunch period! Many teachers and even administrators have a similar attitude toward fixed scheduling. They believe that it provides a dependable framework for activities and no one is slighted. Sometimes that dependable framework is enough to convince folks to assume an "If it ain't broke, don’t fix it" attitude. But, even if it isn't broken, it can still be improved with visible results. Think of it as a "home improvement" project—one that increases the value for everyone.
It may be surprising to know that fixed scheduling still tends to be the norm nationwide, particularly in elementary schools. A review of research on flexible scheduling done by Lance, Rodney, and Russell shows that 56.3% of library media specialists in Indiana reported that their classes are on a fixed schedule (2007). Likewise, Baumbach reported that "while middle and high schools have between 80 and 90% of their time flexibly scheduled, elementary schools have almost 60% of time filled with scheduled classes and combination schools have approximately 42% scheduled classes" (2003). Moreover, Smith and EGS Consulting reported that only 33% of library media specialists in Texas elementary schools schedule classes flexibly (2001).
Yet, multiple studies demonstrate the benefits of flexible scheduling on student achievement (Lance, Rodney, and Hamilton-Pennell 1993; D'Elia and Zimmerman 2000; Miller, Want, and Whitacre 2003). Researchers Graziano (2002), McGregor (2006) and Stripling (1997) have also published tips for making a smooth transition from fixed to flexible scheduling.
Enlist the Support of the Principal
The first step in beginning a campaign to establish flexible scheduling in the library media center should be arranging a meeting with the principal. According to McGregor, successful adaptation of flexible scheduling is invariably linked to support of the principal. McGregor states, "Some principals visited other schools to view flexible scheduling in practice and others read articles or attended meetings where the concept was introduced" (2006). An excellent starting point for the conversation can be found on the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) website. The AASL document for principals is available online in pdf format (http://www.ala.org/ala/aasl/aaslpubsandjournals/aaslbooksandprod/principalsmanual.pdf).
In addition to discussing the AASL document with the principal, it may help to quote some of the ideas presented by Gary Hartzell, in his handout for the Laura Bush Foundation entitled "Capitalizing on the School Library’s Potential to Positively Affect Student Achievement: A Sampling of Resources for Administrators" (http://www.laurabushfoundation.org/Handout.pdf). McGregor explains, "When they understood the potential they were easily convinced to try it" (2006).
A principal, however, cannot take a stand for flexible scheduling if it violates state or district policies. Before attempting to approach the principal on the topic of flexible scheduling, find out the school, district, state, and regional policies on flexible scheduling by checking with several sources (http://jupiter.clarion.edu/~amiller/stateresources.htm or http://www.schoollibrarymonthly.com/cert/index.html).
If the district doesn't support flexible scheduling but the state or regional accrediting agencies do, a wise principal might want to find out why.
Create a Shared Vision
After obtaining the principal's support, involve members of school staff in creating a shared vision for a flexibly scheduled library media center program. Graziano states that "In order to move from a fixed schedule to a flexible schedule, the principal and teachers need to develop a shared vision for the library media program and an understanding of the role of the library media specialist" (2002). Many staff members may be unfamiliar with the benefits of a flexible schedule and how it operates. Graziano explains, "They must be shown the research findings that support flexible scheduling and samples of student success, as well as state and national standards for school library media programs" (2002). Library media specialists can gather data to show the benefits of a flexible schedule through sources such as a PowerPoint (http://www.lrs.org/documents/lmcstudies/future.ppt) found on the Library Research Service website (http://www.lrs.org/), or articles found in the ERIC database (http://www.eric.ed.gov/). Graziano notes, "Although it will probably take time to convince the staff that the library program needs to be changed, presenting this information in a positive way will open the door for additional discussions about the library media specialist's vision and expected role in the school" (2002).
Meet a Specified Need
There may be multiple ways to transition to flexible scheduling, notes McGregor, but research indicates that " it will work most successfully when it is meeting a program and curricular need" (2006). She continues, "There must be a reason to use a flexible schedule, and that reason should relate to student learning" (2006). Determine a specific need—such as fulfilling a schoolwide reading goal, or meeting district technology integration requirements or information literacy standards—and plan to use those goals as a compelling reason for adaptation of flexible scheduling. A complete list of the national information literacy standards, the national technology standards, and the language arts and technology standards by state can be found online (http://www.education-world.com/standards/). This information shows administrators and staff how flexible scheduling facilitates meet these standards.
Develop a Planning Team
A schoolwide change can be difficult for staff to accept unless the plan is developed with the input of many stakeholders. Stripling advised that, "Collaboration requires full commitment from every member of the school community" (1997). Collaboration, an important component of flexible scheduling, helps to develop an environment that nurtures change. A collaborative planning team can suggest steps to adapt flexible scheduling, and members of the team can help foster a mindset of change within the school community. Stripling continues, "Attitudes in the school community form an environment that fosters change if members of the community are willing to take risks and are open to new ideas" (1997).
Members of the staff will accept change at different stages. Some of the risk takers may be accepting of the change more immediately than the more reluctant members of the staff. Stripling notes that "members of the school community should expect to work through different points of view, to capitalize on various strengths, and to compensate for individual weaknesses" (1997). The ERIC database offers more resources for team planning (http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2sql/content_storage_01/0000019b/80/1b/c8/5e.pdf).
Wise library media specialists realize that this process happens slowly. McGregor comments that "In most cases, teachers did not welcome the new initiative with open arms .They were hesitant to change what they thought had worked well in the past" (2006). Patience and persistence, however, seem to pay off over a period of time in achieving a flexible schedule.
Study Models that Have Worked Well
One model that has had great success with transitioning to a flexibly scheduled library media program is the Library Power program. Library Power was launched in 1988 by the Wallace Foundation to revive libraries in public schools. To date, Library Power has helped more than 700 schools in nineteen different communities and has invested more than $40 million to build collections, support professional growth for teachers and library media specialists, and initiate flexible scheduling. Studying how the change took place at other schools may be helpful in the transition to flexible scheduling. Wheelock provides details of the successful Library Power program with case studies and documentation of its implementation in a variety of schools (http://www.wallacefoundation.org/KnowledgeCenter/KnowledgeTopics/Libraries/LibraryPowerES.htm).
In addition, Christine DeVita, president of the Wallace Foundation, spoke at the White House Conference on School Libraries on lessons learned from the Library Power program. The information presented from this model can work as a powerful tool to win over even the most reluctant staff members (http://www.laurabushfoundation.org/DeVita.pdf).
Develop Collaborative Personality Traits
Those people who find it easier to work with others and gain support are needed to ensure successful implementation of flexible scheduling. McGregor notes that successful adaptation of flexible scheduling was, in part, related to the following characteristics of library media specialists: " flexibility, energy, a sharing and facilitating mindset, competence, persistence, awareness of national trends and best practices, a sense of humor, enthusiasm, and an ability to deal with many different kinds of people " (2006). Collaboration takes time to establish, especially if a teaming concept is not already in place.
Toni Buzzeo, author of Collaborating to Meet Standards: Teacher-Librarian Partnerships K-6, has posted a handout from her workshop presentation dealing with garnering administrative support, tackling entrenched school culture, and teacher benefits from collaboration. This handout can be used as a guideline to develop a collaborative school culture (http://www.cal-webs.org/handouts06/MeetStandards.doc).
Buddy believes that awareness of personality traits and effective communication can lead to a successful collaboration. She asserts, "Perhaps if the library media specialist were to combine information on collaboration with knowledge of personality traits and effective communication they might have greater success in collaborative endeavors with teachers" (2007).
Implications for Practitioners
Change is never easy, but transitioning to flexible scheduling is not only a worthwhile change, but also one that is strongly supported by research. Successful implementation of flexible scheduling requires preparation and skill. It can be accomplished by following the advice of others who have already experienced the transition. By enlisting the support of the principal, creating a shared vision, meeting a specified curricular need, developing a planning team, studying models that have worked well, and developing collaborative personality traits, library media specialists can be assured that they are making their best effort to facilitate the change.
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