The nature of school has drastically changed in the wake of COVID-19. Teacher communication shifted from emails and office hours to zoom conferences and instant messaging. Fluency in technology became a necessity for standard homework assignments. In short, the way we educate today is unrecognizable compared to life before March of 2020. However, there is one byproduct of COVID education protocols that might stick around: the flex day.
A flex day is an entire school day dedicated to flexible learning time for students. Typically on Wednesday, this period enables students to work independently, get extra help where they need it, and pursue enrichment projects both within and outside their school environment. Although it takes some scheduling magic, the benefits of a flex day are numerous. In fact, leading businesses like Google and Tesla have following this model for decades to great effect. While schools have experimented with shorter flex periods throughout the week before, COVID-19 is the first time we have seen a full flex day in action, and the benefits were staggering. So, why does a flex day work so well?
1. Flex days teach students essential life skills.
A flex day can teach students how to manage their time effectively. More so, it gives students an opportunity to manage their time independently. When students are in a traditional classroom, the bell tells them where to go, and when they get to their next class, the teacher tells them what to do. It’s easy to be told what to do. But when you have to decide what your priorities are and how to manage your time to meet your goals, more effort is required. First of all, to manage the free time well, students need to have goals and priorities. Students need to learn how to develop an action plan for the day, break down a project into discrete chunks, and manage the ever-present distraction of choice. A flex day allows for this type of learning in a semi-protected environment.
Sure, some students will likely need guidance and someone to hold them accountable during this time but think about the independent learner that could come out of a program like this. Sending a student to college with three or four years of once-a-week flex days under his or her belt is a recipe for success. The freedom of college and the paralysis of choice won’t be so new. These students will have practice, successes, and failures with managing their free time.
2. Flex days boost creativity.
Secondly, injecting a flex day into the schedule gives students space to explore their passions. Flex days are about depth, not breadth. Giving students an entire day to work on projects independently means they will dig deeper into subjects that interest them. A student who loves history might spend an extra hour researching for her paper over Alexander the Great. Another student might schedule extra practice time for his orchestra event this weekend. The point is flex days give students time to work on what they love without sacrificing sleep. Instead of declining the “extra work” when they get home from soccer practice at 9:30 pm, students can get ahead and stay ahead during this unstructured time.
3. Flex days improve student learning.
Flex days enable students to have more time to master a subject. Far too often, students endure a “hell week” at school, meaning they have multiple tests, projects, and essays due within a five-day period. Unfortunately, when this happens, students tend to shift from learning mode to survival mode. They study for their biology test during geometry class. They cram for their history exam instead of scheduling a conference with their English teacher. In short, students forget or abandon all of the principles we teach them because they are overwhelmed.
For some students, especially those with learning differences, survival mode is the default setting. They don’t have time to attend office hours, participate in extracurricular activities, finish their homework, work with tutors, work with academic coaches, sleep, and spend time with their family. So, they have to choose a few of these and sacrifice the rest. It’s a nightmare. Flex days inject a reset button into the school week. Students can regroup and develop a plan for attack. They can also check in with their math teacher about the confusing lesson from Monday, so a small problem doesn’t turn into a much larger one.
We believe flex days are incredibly beneficial for students, parents, and educators. Now, will they stick around as the world gets back to normal? Only time will tell. To read more about changes to the educational landscape after COVID-19 or tips to help your student during this challenging time, please check out our blog. For more information on our unique academic coaching program, please reach out.