When the daylight gets significantly shorter in November, the joy of an additional hour gained when the clock “falls back” quickly fades and the wafting fogs and dull grey skies remind us that winter break is indeed more than a month away.
On campus, November is also a crunch time for our students: university applications are looming, internal assessments are held, and final drafts of extended essays are due at the end of the month.
November, and in fact also February, are often the months where health, wellness and mental health services are accessed more frequently than during other times of the year.
“For many years, educators on campus have talked about November being a challenging time of the year”, explained Heather Gross, Deputy Head and Vice-President of Education and Programming. “In November 2018, the educational team decided to brainstorm ideas to change this.”
As an independent school we have the ability to change our schedule according to our needs and test models of how we go about our days. “There is quite a bit of flexibility in how we do things”, said Gross. “While what we have been doing is working, we have opportunities to look at it in a different way and experiment with it, to create change and learn from it.”
After planning sessions and preparation, the team, together with faculty, decided in May 2019 to trial a “flipped schedule” during the first two weeks of November with the intention of benefiting students by increasing light hours for outdoor activities and creating a shift to positively influence mental health during darker months.
The flipped schedule put all our afternoon activities into the daylight. Fitness, CAS activities and even a Global Affairs Speaker Series event and one Village Gathering were held in the morning. The day started with a class at 8:30 am when it was still quite dark, then activity time until lunch break, and classes after lunch until 4:40 pm. “There were logistical challenges to overcome, but they were manageable. For example, the external speaker for the Global Affairs Speaker Series came in the morning instead of the afternoon, and some local community organizations were able to accommodate service-oriented CAS activities – such as – during the morning times as well, “ added Emily Coolidge, Dean of Studies and Faculty member.
However, the reversed schedule also presented challenges with timing. Outdoor CAS activities that have a long set-up and take-down were impacted negatively by the fact that students needed to be back on campus for lunch and then classes afterwards.
“This exercise highlighted the fact of how accustomed we are to our schedules and how much we, as humans, appreciate routine,” remarked Gross.
The educational team committed to a robust evaluation of the pilot and followed up immediately with an anonymous online survey to the entire on campus community as well as during an open lunch session and the faculty meeting on 21 Nov 2019.
The reactions to the pilot program were mostly neutral to negative, with some students as well as adults appreciating the trial while others were less enthusiastic.
“It was a good experiment to see how we as a community react to change,” stated Coolidge. “We probably learned more about how we adapt to change and how challenging a change in our daily routines can be than the benefits of physical activity in the daylight.”
Among the many comments received and shared with the campus, a student reported that they learned about their own productivity and time management while another stated that it was worth it to try something new and to get first hand experience and feedback from it.
“We have the ability to try something . Faculty members used the flipped schedule to re-imagine time slots and adjusting them to their activities’ needs that they did not feel empowered to do under the regular schedule,” explained Emily Coolidge.
“This experiment was a good way of flexing our muscle of creating change, even if we did not succeed,” she added.