The Power of the Master Schedule

A learning organization is a place “where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together.”

The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, by scientist and organizational-theory expert Peter Senge

My daughter just started her Junior year of high school. As with most high schools across the nation, she had to wait to get her schedule until the day before school started. It’s a highly anticipated moment – which teachers did I get? Will my friends be in classes with me? What’s usually not questioned is what classes are assigned. That’s because, by this stage of the high school career, classes are chosen in the Spring, signed off by student, parent, and counselor, and therefore expected to be a reality in August.

So I’m sure you can imagine her surprise when two of her selected AP classes were not on her schedule. And as luck would have it, these are the courses which had assigned summer homework. So not only is she without the courses she expected, but she invested hours of summer vacation doing the work needed for these missing classes.

Instead of excitement, she walked into school day one with anxiety and disappointment. But more importantly, she was invested in coming up with a solution. Can you imagine how her level of investment would be markedly more than the guidance counselor? Or the Principal? Or me? This need, this problem, is personal to her, and therefore, she is motivated to figure it out.

The New Power

The question I have is, why don’t we provide ways for students to become part of the process of building the day to day of school? In New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World–and How to Make It Work for You by Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans, Timms and Heimans share ways in which organizations can embrace new power. Unlike old power, which is guarded and owned by a few, new power embraces the wisdom of the collective by distributing power in a participatory fashion. 

How could this apply to high school schedules? Think about how massive the master schedule is at a traditional, urban school. So many students, so many classes, and so many possible pain points. How might we provide a participatory experience so that students could facilitate the creation of their schedule? How might the inclusion of this missing voice work towards shifting the culture of a campus from adult to student centered? How much more invested would students be in the school experience if they helped to shape it?


Senge believes that, “When young people develop basic leadership and collaborative learning skills, they can be a formidable force for change.” So how about we give them that chance? A little transparency and some extra voices can’t hurt!

Update: No luck on fixing her schedule. She went from three to one AP class, which will drop her class ranking because of the weighted GPA structure. We’re looking at college courses so she can get the subject knowledge she wanted.

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