At the beginning of the new academic year, it is often the Principal’s task to manage change, whether it be new staff, new timetables or new policies. It is also the period where I, after a holiday, can spend a few weeks before school and think about changes for the next academic year, reflect upon the year past and begin to formulate ideas for how we can improve.
One of the key questions I always ask myself, is how can we be innovative in adapting ‘traditional’ school approaches to meet the needs of today’s children? I’m not one to always want to shoehorn children into a system just for the sake of it, just because it’s what has always been done, but I’d rather think that the nature of schools can be optimised to suit the needs of the children, and to create the best possible environment for them to achieve.
Two of my main questions I have had over the last few months surround the nature of the school day and the school annual calendar. Are they set up to optimise learning? What is the balance between adult needs and children’s needs? Take the following link for example;
This article is one of many that discusses the nature of the school day and the impact that it has upon children, particularly teenagers. To summarise, their body clocks work differently. They go to bed later and rise later. Early school mornings are therefore creating sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation affects mood and lowers academic attainment. The response? Open school later for teens. The research is clear, it has a definite affect in improving student performance (Examining the Impact of Later High School Start Times on the Health and Academic Performance of High School Students: A Multi-Site Study, 2014 – amongst others) and creates a better learning environment. Resistance factors, however, can often be external – and includes concerns such as parental drop off, staff having to work later and school sports. Not to say that these are not legitimate concerns, but the issues should at least be explored if we feel it will benefit the children, whether or not it might be more inconvenient.
Another point of concern for me, or at least a concept that interests me, is the nature of the school calendar and school holidays. I have often had an issue with very long summer holidays (and that’s not just as a parent!) The children get bored, the parents struggle and there is definite proof in research that learning is lost!
So why do we have such long holidays in the Summer? Well, it’s traditional, and arose during the expansion of state schooling and the need for children to disappear and help parents in a majority rural population. The need for it does not exist anymore, so why retain it? Again that management of change will encounter resistance. It’s not something I’m taking lightly and a change that we can just roll out, and it would need to be seriously discussed, but that conversation should take place, at least. The benefits as I see them?
• Children retain learning better
• More ‘mini holidays’ recharges batteries often and avoids fatigue towards the end of the year – for teachers and students
• These mini holidays provide an opportunity for parents to take holidays outside of peak travel time, saving money
• Teachers can take longer holidays around individual public holidays in Malaysia – particularly religious/cultural ones
So, something to consider. How about the below as a starter for discussion?