St. Gregory has proudly had a block schedule (4 blocks a day, 75 minute blocks) for seven years, and it is my belief that block scheduling is nearly a necessity for 21st century learning.   I have written about this before here on the blog, and it is something I believe passionately: for students to have the time to experiment, pursue their passions, collaborate, and study topics in depth, a block schedule makes a huge difference.

One of our fine “sister schools” here in Arizona is Phoenix Country Day School, which is taking the plunge for next year to convert to a block schedule, and we at St. Gregory are having the good fortune of welcoming a series of visiting teams of faculty members from PCDS, who are observing our classes in session to take note of how we effectively use the longer blocks.   The following is a guest post from a PCDS teacher, Kelly Butler,  who visited last week, offering her observations of our school in action.  My thanks go to Ms. Butler for writing this fine observation.

Overall, my experience at St. Gregory was enjoyable and a definitely worthwhile.  I left feeling confident about our transition into the block schedule next year and also walked away with some valuable insights.  It was apparent that your teachers are able to challenge their students, diversify instruction, and most importantly develop critical thinkers within the block.  Also, it made it abundantly clear to me that the block enables good teachers to truly shine and supports placing student needs first.  

In conclusion, I realized the incredible amount of growth that can occur within your own teaching simply by observing others.  Often I think we get so wrapped up in the hectic schedules of our day that we forget that teachers still need to be students as well.

Michelle Berry’s incredible knowledge and overall enthusiasm for teaching history was very apparent in her AP US History class.  Her ability to engage her students into the discussion, challenge them to think critically, and to make what could have been a mundane task, AP review, very interesting is a testament to her skills as an educator.  I especially liked the website she was using, to help students master the skills needed to analyze any given court case. Also, I really appreciated that she took time out of her planning period to answer my questions regarding the block schedule.

When I walked into the Civics classroom of Holly Wasson it was clear immediately that you have a very talented teacher on your staff.  Most impressive was her organization and clear expectations for the students. It was very apparent that the students were held to high standards and that under her guidance, they had risen to the challenge.  I was especially in awe of the real life applications of her lessons. Students were learning practical skills that they would carry with them for years to come.  The mock trial that the students enacted was extremely well thought out and realistic.  I heard more than one student say how much fun they were having.  Holly did an excellent job of making the lesson incredibly meaningful for all students involved.

Like Michelle and Holly, Dan Young also impressed during his 7th grade world history course.  I personally am not one to lecture often in my classes, but I must say that after observing Dan’s talents as an orator I’m inspired to do so more often.  He does an amazing job of mixing lecture with Socratic questioning.   Dan’s class was incredibly high energy and it was clear that the students were engaged and actively learning.  Also, notable was Dan’s attention to each student, not only during the lecture, but also during the research paper writing process.  He took the time to conference with students individually and offered suggestions when applicable.  It was clear that this class, like the previous, had clear expectations and that the students were held to a high academic standard.

Lastly, Linda Mount’s Freshman World History Class was a perfect example of how the bock schedule supports student driven instruction.  The students were presenting countries that they had created and the most impressive part of this process was the student-generated questions/discussion at the end of each.  It was clear the students had a deep understanding of governments, societies and cultures and it was interesting to watch them defend various aspects of the countries they had created.