Sunday, August 9, 2015

Scheduling: Struggle Turned Productive

Part of my new role as Assistant Head of School is to write the schedule. We are a tiny school (growing by almost 20% this year to 107 students in grades 6-12!), so scheduling is a particularly tricky puzzle. Until last year, our Dean of Faculty (no longer at the school) spent much of the summer (and quite a bit of the spring) working by hand in an Excel Spreadsheet she created to write the schedule. Last summer, upon her departure, the chair of our board found some open source scheduling software called FET. He owns a software company, so had faith that it would help us. Last summer, I supplied him with the required information and he entered everything into the software. I just gave him lots of feedback on his drafts and let him know what was flexible and not. For the spring schedule, I did some tweaks to the fall one, slowly learning how to use the software (it's not hard, but it's also not intuitive).

This summer, it is my responsibility to do it myself. So, in late June, I got down to business and spent several agonizing days staring at the screen trying to figure out why it would not run. I improved in my ability to hypothesize about what the error reports might possibly mean, but it still took forever. I finally found that if one student took a Spanish class a year up, we could make it all work, SUCCESS!

Then, last week, we decided to accept five students off our wait list, leading to a third split. Now, rather than only having two sections in grades 8 and 11, we are also going to have two sections in grade 9. For the long-term health and vitality of the school, this is an excellent development. For the schedule, it meant I needed to go dig back in and redo many parts of it, during the second week of August. Everyone wants to know what they're teaching, parents want to know when study halls are for scheduling tutoring, the pressure is high and I'm trying to move as fast as I can!

Feeling Like My Students
I don't often get to do projects that make me feel like I presume my students often feel. When at first the schedule would not run, I truly had no idea what I should try. There are SO many variables, which one would make a difference? I was struggling, and not in the productive way. I use the words "productive struggle" in class a lot, and this experience is reminding me of the importance of having a teacher, a mentor, a guide, while I'm struggling.

Tonight, my beloved partner Hollis @adkpiper was listening to me moan about it not working. He encouraged me to write up all of the different variables and start to keep track of what was working and what wasn't. He asked me to share the document with him and he started to suggest tests I could try, and asked me why I was trying certain things, what was I trying to isolate? The act of talking through what was going on and the assumptions I was making made a huge difference. His gentle guidance and small suggestions brought me to a schedule draft that at least runs (there's still lots of work to do to make it good...but at least it's running now!). Having someone to talk through my ideas with and to push me to consider other possibilities with a clean slate was instrumental.

Into the Classroom
How can I do this for my students? How can I create settings where they can do this for each other? I love learning, but when I feel totally stuck, it's no fun at all. Hollis brought the joy back that I hope to bring to my classroom every day!

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