Three years ago the biorhythm grid was introduced at Piter Jelles De Dyk. How is the school doing now and how do they look back on this change process?
Custom work through vision
“The reason for changing our educational system was that we wanted more motivated pupils and offer customized schoolwork”, says teacher Hans Krabbendam. In fact, the biorhythm timetable is just one part of four pillars the school wanted to get started with. With a lead group, the principal Hawé van der Panne, started to form a new vision based on four pillars:
- The biorhythm timetable: lessons start after 09:00 o’clock and all intensive lessons are scheduled between 10:00- 14:00. Research has shown that starting any earlier leads to sleep deprivation among pupils.
- Offering multiple options of choice: for five hours a week pupils choose their own subjects.
- Rewarding pupils with freedom: once pupils have finished their course work and don’t have any bad grades, they can go home earlier.
- Introduction of taking exams at an accelerated pace.
The school leader had a clear vision and with a group of enthusiastic teachers he discussed how to apply the four pillars in the school for a period of a year and a half. “Because we really took the time to do this and the teachers could all do their bit, we reached a plan that could rely on broad support throughout the school. As far as I’m aware, nobody left the school because of all the changes”, Hans tells us.
Making mistakes is allowed
The new plans were also discussed in the parents’ council accompanied by the announcement that we were starting something new, so we might see some mistakes. “As a teacher, you must also accept that things can go wrong if you’re experimenting and that this is okay. Only by being vulnerable and communicating this to parents and pupils, can you actually start realising change.”
In school year 2015-2016, the school went ahead with the new biorhythm timetable and the rewards system. The lessons were cut back to 45 minutes and as a result of implementing choice hours some teachers had one class less. “It was a tough process because it took a lot of getting used to for everyone”, explains Hans. “Suddenly, everyone had to cram their instructions into forty minutes, so lessons needed to be rearranged. This has a big impact on your didactical method.”
Also, teachers were trained up to develop their coaching skills so that they could coach pupils who were given more freedom of choice.
Ask the pupil
According to Hans, the only way to change was by ‘just doing it’. “Daring to let go, having new ideas and trying them out.” Hans has been trying out new working methods for longer, but does he notice that the changes give him more and more space to develop even further? “The main thing I’ve learnt is to talk to the pupils. By asking a pupil how he or she learns best and what they need from me. While talking, you find out what is up for improvement and this lessens the pupil’s resistance.”
The teachers dealt with the changes in different ways. Some held on to their old methods and adapted them to the new situation, others made far greater adaptations. “But as we all concluded that we had to do better, successful change was made possible”, says Hans. After a year, the first results came in. “We were all dumbfounded. Within a year, the number of inadequate marks in the first year had dropped by 88% and in the second and third year by 42%. This had a huge effect on our motivation, as we shared and celebrated this success together.”
After the success of the first year, the school decided to elaborate on it. The biorhythm timetable still starts after 09:00 hours, but it was decided to give pupils nine hours of choice rather than five. The system of rewards was also enhanced. Pupils often picked the choice hours and any extra lessons in concert with their coach. And for most subjects they’ve been given more freedom in how they complete their assignments.
Although many teachers have grown with the change, Hans has noticed that the school still breathes ‘a learning culture’. “I would like to say they have grown, but I have noticed that all the changes we actually implement are always carried by a small group of enthusiastic teachers.” Nevertheless, Hans feels sure that an irreversible change has taken place. “I just can’t imagine us ever reverting back to the old-fashioned GCSE system.”
By now, we’re three years down the road and the school has extensively evaluated all the changes by talking to the pupils. This also led to some unforeseen issues. “For instance, this is how we found out that the way pupils select a choice subject is different to what we thought. It turns out that pupils mainly choose a subject because of their friends, not because they want extra coaching”, says Hans. And it has also revealed that the coaching isn’t quite up to the standards required. “Even though teachers have been trained up, we’ve seen that it takes far more time to really learn to coach properly.”
See what we can improve
“Perhaps the pupils have been given too much freedom, after all. We’re currently talking to pupils and teachers to see what we can improve next year. Such as going back to five subjects of choice, for instance”, says Hans. As far as coaching is concerned, the school wants to take a closer look at each teacher’s individual skills. “We all have our own set of qualities and we must take a sharp look at how to deploy these best. We all feel the need to keep evaluating and continuously staying up-to-date. And that explains why we are reviewing our vision again”, Hans concludes.