inchester Thurston’s Strategic Priorities, Reimagine Learning, Rethink Time and Space, Strengthen Community, and Support Employees, are the pillars of an approach for equipping students to be able to adapt to whatever the future might hold. The priority to Rethink Time and Space is now poised to drive the evolution of WT’s schedule design, encompassing everything from the academic calendar and learning spaces to opportunities for cross-disciplinary collaboration and, yes, the structure of a school day.

Tadao Tomokiyo is doing a motion study
WT is committed to providing students with project-based learning experiences, such as this Upper School physics project where freshman Tadao Tomokiyo is doing a motion study lab and sharing his results with his virtual lab partner via Zoom. The Rethinking Time Task Force will examine new ways of scheduling the school day to ensure students and teachers have ample time for this type of deeper learning.

“We went through a major schedule revision for the 2013-2014 school year that helped us drastically reimagine the way we utilized time,” states Adam Nye, Assistant Head for Education and Strategy. “Now, we are realizing that we need to move forward again to revise our schedule for the evolving academic program. As we progress further into student-centered, project-based, interdisciplinary learning, we must have a schedule that is flexible and can adapt to many different types of learning experiences. Just as our teaching and learning should be student- (and teacher-) centered, so should our schedule.”Helping WT to orchestrate that alignment is District Management Group (DMGroup), an educational consulting firm specializing in systems-level changes, like scheduling, that improve student performance and experience. “By blending educational best practices with proven management techniques, we help school leaders successfully navigate the knotty challenges of time and scheduling to bring about measurable, sustainable improvements in student outcomes,” notes Craig Gibbons, VP DMSolutions and Engineering at DMGroup. “Educators have long wrestled with this challenge as they work to instill fundamental skills in their students and seek to prepare them academically, as well as socially and emotionally, for the next challenge they will face in school, their communities, and their careers.”

“Schedules are an extremely powerful lever”

WT students have many opportunities for impactful learning, both in and out of the classroom. Here, junior Jonah Keller monitors the soundboard during the Upper School One Acts performance. A well-balanced schedule is one that provides students with opportunities to pursue their passions in many different ways.
“In a similar way that curriculum and academic programs develop over time, so do teaching and learning practices,” adds Gibbons. “Schedules are an extremely powerful lever to drive successful programs, but can very often, and inadvertently, be a barrier for teaching and learning. The approach we take is intended to place the why and the what of scheduling before the how. The design (i.e., how) becomes much clearer when you first refine and align what you are aiming to accomplish.” WT’s aim—bringing the schedule into alignment with its focus on student-centered teaching and learning—requires balancing myriad aspects of the academic experience and community.

“We want to focus on providing flexibility for many different types of learning experiences, specifically having opportunities for deeper learning,” explains Nye. “We also want to focus on supporting our student and employee wellness, and ensuring that we are utilizing the research of how time impacts learning outcomes, teacher practice, and employee satisfaction.”

Above all, says Nye, “We must think about the student and faculty experience as a core driver for the schedule redesign. By examining everything we do, we can ensure we continue to deliver on the promise of a rigorous and student-centered learning experience.”

A Holistic, Comprehensive Approach

Seventh grader DaShae Cochran focuses on a drawing activity in her Middle School Visual Arts class. WT’s Visual and Performing Arts programs provide meaningful opportunities to engage the community through City as Our Campus. The new schedules will strive to provide new opportunities for this to happen, such as through artist residencies.
The work began in earnest last December, when WT selected DMGroup from among several candidates. Chosen for their holistic approach to schedule redesign, DMGroup dived in immediately, launching a comprehensive analysis of course offerings, course enrollment trends over the years, staffing, academic support intervention and strategies, faculty workload, opportunities for faculty collaboration—pretty much everything that connects to a schedule.

WT provided DMGroup with existing documentation and with research gleaned from employees during the 2019-2020 strategic design process and the January 2020 employee wellness survey. Then, Nye says, “they engaged employees in focus groups—a total of 11 groups with 50 employees across all divisions, departments, and offices. We had a very robust and inclusive representation that brought in voices from across the employee base.”

DMGroup’s approach provides a foundation for understanding both the lived experience of the schedule as well as its tactical or logistical components. “It is important to analyze all of these areas to really understand current practice, uncover areas that could promote greater efficiencies, and ultimately leverage the expansive set of information to make informed recommendations,” noted Gibbons.

Research, Recommendations, and a Reimagined Schedule

Student looking out window
Kindergarten student Elena Kyriacopoulos takes a break from playing to peek out the window. Revised Lower School schedules will be designed to ensure opportunities for play and exploration, which are essential elements for young children’s social and emotional development.
By late spring, results of DMGroup’s research had been shared with all employees. Any recommendations the school adopts will be implemented with support from DMGroup, Nye says, and any change would happen gradually, with minor revisions phased in over the next three years. One difference already planned for the 2021-2022 school year: moving from a four-day schedule to a Monday through Friday/A–B week schedule. In other words, during week A, a given class would be held Monday/Wednesday/Friday; during week B, that class would occur Tuesday/Thursday.

“This alleviates some of the problems identified by faculty,” Nye explains. “Benefits will include easier collaboration and coordination with City as Our Campus and other external partners; more consistency from week to week for everyone, including part-time employees; and greater distribution of classes across a cycle.”

The schedule redesign is still evolving, but one thing is clear: The school’s Mission and goals, rooted in its strategic priorities, interrelate, overlap, and strengthen one another, serving a multiplicity of issues and needs, ultimately furnishing and feeding an environment where students and teachers thrive. And the painstaking process of designing a schedule to reinforce all of this—a schedule with enough flexibility and adaptability to enable and support the extraordinary teaching and learning experiences that are the heart and hallmark of a WT education—only solidifies WT’s position at the forefront of learning innovation.

Says Nye, “I am excited by the possibilities that we have when we align initiatives around all of our strategic priorities.”