Heart of the Matter: How Rainbow’s Calendar Supports Our Mission
Rainbow is adopting a unique school calendar for the 2011-12 school year. We will have an early release at 1pm every Wednesday for K-8 students to allow teachers time for collaboration, training, and planning.
As you know, the quality of education here is extraordinary: Teachers are exceptionally well-trained, dedicated, and nurturing. Their lesson plans are engaging, and the classroom management makes the most of every minute, resulting in students who are happy, engaged, and successful.
The logic behind our calendar planning has always been to support the highest possible quality education. We schedule fewer student days than the public schools (168 compared to 180), but students here make greater progress and received a much broader education that encompasses all domains. That is because teachers have MORE scheduled work days than public school teachers, due to the inordinate number of training days and parent conference days scheduled. This allows them time to prepare to make every minute of classroom time effective and magical.
Research has clearly indicated that the more time teachers spend training, the higher quality the program. This is the primary rationale behind our calendar. The following post further explains this logic and points out several other aspects to our calendar. It will help families remember that the quality in the classroom is directly related to the time teachers have to train, collaborate, meet with parents, and prepare for conferences.
Eight of the “off” days in our calendar are conference days. We spend eight days in conferences as opposed to only two days in Asheville public schools, where parents get to conference with their teacher only twice a year for about 15 minutes. Our teachers meet with you four times a year, for 30 minutes or more each time. If we were to eliminate Listening Conferences in September, the November Parent Conferences, the Student Led Conferences in March, or the End-of-Year Summary, our program wouldn’t be complete. In addition, RCS teachers don’t simply provide a report card with letter grades, but they spend time writing detailed, multi-age narratives about your child.
In addition to parent conferences, for those of you who have had students in the public school system, I’m sure it’s noticeable how much more accessible our teachers make themselves. The casual and caring informal talks teachers have with parents every day are a part of their overall work hours.
Fewer weather days
RCS has never had more than three closings in one year due to weather in comparison to the public schools, who frequently close or start late due to winter weather. (Asheville City had 11 inclement weather closings 2010-2011, and even more late starts.) Although our training days and early release days may inconvenience parents, at least parents have time to plan alternatives. Weather days happen suddenly, making parents scramble for sitters. We are dedicated to being here.
The Value of Planning Time
It is easy to take for granted the creative lesson plans we have grown accustomed to our children receiving at Rainbow. In particular, the lessons that involve rounding up interesting hands-on materials, or making plans for excursions off campus, require an inordinate amount of planning time (as opposed to teaching out of a text book). Obviously, teachers can only plan when they are not teaching, meaning evenings and weekends. (Rudolf Steiner, founder of Waldorf Schools, claimed that teachers need to spend 8 hours preparing for every hour of teaching!) RCS teachers consider Sunday a work day. By providing teachers adequate work time, they can find time and inspiration for quality holistic lesson plans.
The typical public school day is terribly inefficient in its use of time – time between classes, lining up to go to specials (music, art, etc.), and the lack of flexibility in the schedule. The biggest waste of time, however, lies within the poor student behavior. Experts estimate that more than 50% of teaching time in public schools is spent on redirecting student behavior. Rainbow’s positive discipline, our application process which screens out potentially disruptive students, and our small student-to-teacher ratio, provides a classroom setting that is not disruptive, so students can make the most of class time. Our small student-to-teacher ratio makes it possible for teachers to address even the smallest disruptive behavior before it has a chance to escalate. So even though we have fewer student contact days, students are spending far more time on task than they would be in a public school.
Collaboration takes time
We have all witnessed that the class time used for student class meetings, collaboration, and conflict resolution pays off. Kids are empowered and feel more positive because they have ownership. Collaboration has the same effect on teachers (or any adult). Rainbow Mountain teachers use dynamic governance to make thoughtful decisions about how to manage the school in a manner that is equitable and thoughtful. Dynamic governance is highly effective because teachers are the decisions-makers..
In addition, school-wide celebrations and events such as seasonal celebrations, Halloween, artist-in-residences, or anything that requires two or more classrooms working together require an extra amount of collaboration time between teachers. These multi-age experiences are critical to our program.
The 180-day school year was designed out of the traditional “blue collar” teacher format, where teachers were immersed in a top-down bureaucracy. This blue collar format has been proven ineffective. It makes teachers too isolated from one another and they don’t feel like professionals. By contrast, Rainbow teachers creatively brainstorm, plan, and work together as professionals should. RCS teachers have clearly expressed that having more of a voice and time to work together improves their performance and their positive feelings for the job (and therefore, the children). They know what is going on because they have time to communicate, and the information from the administration is transparent because we have time to share it. The time the faculty has to collaborate is part of why the climate is so positive at RCS.
The 180 day calendar is antiquated
When the public school 180-day calendar was “invented,” teachers’ responsibilities were much simpler. Since then, teacher responsibilities have increased dramatically. Students have become much more complicated, with a host of special needs, requiring extensive documentation paperwork, and working with a team of experts. The training teachers need has increased, and other outside-the-classroom responsibilities, such as reporting, has increased tremendously, creating an untenable work-load that takes the focus away from students, and leads to teacher burn out. Every year, large numbers of teachers — often the best ones— leave the profession.
The 180-day calendar is not based on research. There has been no consistent evidence indicating that the number of contact days makes any difference in academic achievement. In fact, some studies show that fewer student days are more effective (as long as there are a high number of quality teacher training days.) My information mostly comes from debates in Colorado where the argument was between a 160-day school year versus a 145-day year.
Progressive schools often have shorter school years
Many states with more progressive, higher-ranking educational programs do not require 180 student days. The state of Colorado requires a 160-day school year, and schools can opt for an even shorter school year if they provide rationale.
The year my previous school went from a 160-day school year to a 4 day week with 147 student days, was the same year we became a “school of excellence.” Our elementary program ranked in the top 2% of the state. We directly attributed the shorter school week with our success because of the extra training, planning, and collaborating time the teachers had.
When my previous school went to a four-day week, we also discovered that children were happier and more at ease when they were not putting in a “40 hour work week.” Children are not cut out for so many school hours, and there are significant diminishing returns on how much they can benefit from school beyond about 24 hours a week. If you think about your own learning rhythms, we tend to understand things better after a period of rest.
The 180-day calendar is a recipe for burn-out, both for kids and teachers. Burn-out of teachers in public schools is very, very real – and it has a devastating effect on the children and their perception of school as negative. Teachers at Rainbow are as excited about teaching at the end of the year as they are at the beginning. RCS teachers already work MORE days than public school teachers, because we require so many training days and parent conference days of them. However, they are paid significantly less than public school teachers. They work here because they believe in the holistic education model, and they are enthusiastic about working here.
The True Purpose of School
Finally, while we are here to support families, our primary job is to educate children, not to provide childcare. Some parents need five full-day school weeks for childcare. Since our preschool is both an educational program and a childcare facility, they have fewer early release days. The K – 8 program, however, is not a child care program, but a high-quality educational program. It’s more important that we design an exceptional educational program than to provide as many childcare days as possible. Nonetheless, we offer childcare on early release days for family convenience.
In summary, Rainbow’s calendar helps our teachers and students accomplish peak performance. When we have great teachers who are doing a great job, we have a strong school. Our teachers collaborate, they communicate, they are well-trained, and they are happy. Their happiness rubs off on our children.
As a parent, I can be two different people. When I am balanced and rested, I could be the “poster child” for positive discipline parenting. But when I am worn out, it takes all of my self-control to be patient with my children, because I feel cranky. I want our teachers to feel rested, prepared, grounded, and balanced each day so they are clearly enjoying our children. Holistic education is about living a holistic life – one that is balanced. Our calendar allows our teachers to model for their students a life that is healthy, balanced, and beautiful.