How to Create a School Calendar That Enriches Your School Community
Image source: Action Network
Time and learning are intimately entwined.
School calendars have been a severe impediment to educational progress in America because their roots lie in meeting economic needs instead of educational ones.
To best explain how inadequate time management affects our public school system, here is an excerpt from the National Education Commission on Time and Learning’s 1994 report entitled “Prisoners of Time:”
“If experience, research, and common sense teach nothing else, they confirm the truism that people learn at different rates and in different ways with different subjects. But we have put the cart before the horse: our schools and the people involved with them — students, parents, teachers, administrators, and staff — are captives of clock and calendar. The boundaries of student growth are defined by schedules for bells, buses, and vacations instead of standards for students and learning.”
To make a good impact on our educational system, school leaders have to reimagine the school calendar as we know it today by using modern software and focusing on student achievement. The best way to improve our practices is to glance back at the past and try to improve what was broken from the beginning.
A Brief History of the School Calendar
Policymakers and the media often link the origin of the school calendar to the agrarian society of 200 years ago. People who stand behind this claim say that the traditional school calendar harks back to 18th-century England that relied on agriculture as a dominant means for sustenance.
Because farms were at their busiest during the summer months (typically from June to September), students had to be free in the summer to lend a helping hand to their parents. It is said that the United States and most European countries inherited this approach to schooling when the British Agricultural Revolution started spreading and became a global phenomenon.
As it turns out, the idea that the traditional school calendar has its roots in the agricultural society of the past is nothing more than a common misconception.
Debunking the Myth of School Calendar’s Origins
Image source: PBS
Kenneth Gold, a historian at the College of Staten Island, states that the agrarian high school calendar came with a short winter term and a short summer term. Crops were mostly planted in the spring and harvested in the fall — meaning that farming needs were at their lowest during the summertime. Because of that, historically, most students attended school during the summer.
In the urban parts of the country, schools were open year-round, and students were not required to show up every single day but rather when they could. Gold says that in 1842, New York schools were open 248 days per year, which is drastically more than 185 mandatory student days in the 21st century.
The truth of the matter is that the summer vacation, as we know it today, sprung to life in the late 1800s. Upper-class and, eventually, middle-class citizens started vacating cities during the sweltering months. Given that air conditioning had not yet been invented, suspending schools during the summer seemed like a logical solution.
By the end of the 19th century, school reformers demanded the standardization of the school calendar in both the urban and rural areas of the country.
Regardless of how the traditional school calendar came to be, student achievements were never the governing force behind its creation!
School Calendar Legislation
Each spring, school calendars are approved by the School Board and have to include holidays, the start and end dates, non-attendance days, and school improvement dates.
As of 2013, school calendars have to meet the following requirements:
- Monday closest to August 26 has to be the start date, whereas the end date cannot be later than Friday closest to June 11
- There can be no educational purpose waivers for exemption of the start and end date
- All schools within a district have to be closed all day for the purpose of determining eligibility for a weather waiver
- The calendar has to cover at least nine calendar months
- The calendar must contain at least 185 days or 1,025 hours of instruction
- The calendar must contain at least nine teacher workdays
- Local Boards have to designate two workdays on which teachers may take accumulated vacation leave
- The calendar must contain at least ten annual vacation leave days
- The calendar must contain the same number of legal holidays as those designated by the State Personnel Commission for State Employees
- Schools cannot be held on Sundays
- Veterans Day has to be a holiday for all public school students and personnel
Types of School Calendars
Apart from having to comply with the mandated requirements listed above, schools need to pick the most suitable calendar form for their staff and students. There are four different types of school calendars:
- Traditional school calendar
- Year-round school calendar
- Modified year-round school calendar
- A combination of the traditional and year-round school calendars
Traditional School Calendars
A traditional high school calendar means that the school has one continuous period of instruction with a long summer break and that it is in operation for at least 185 days per year.
Year-Round School Calendars
High schools with a year-round calendar provide instructional days throughout the whole school calendar year — beginning from July 1 and ending on June 30. Schools have to employ one of the following plans:
- Students are scheduled to attend 45 instructional days followed by 15 days of vacation — this cycle is repeated throughout the school calendar year
- Students are divided into groups that are required to be in school during assigned and staggered quarters each school calendar year
- The school calendar is divided into nine-week sessions of instructional classes out of which students have to attend four assigned and staggered sessions in total
Modified Year-Round School Calendars
A modified year-round school calendar means that the high school has one track in operation for at least 185 days and that it includes longer spring and fall breaks (two weeks each), and a shorter summer break (between six and seven weeks).
Traditional and Year-Round Calendar Combined
Schools are allowed to offer two or more different calendar types.
Create a School Calendar That Meets the Parent’s Needs and Fosters Student Achievement
Did you know that the most-used feature on a school website is the school calendar? Parents, students, and staff members greatly rely on school calendars for reliable and up-to-date information that helps them plug into the school scene.
The safest path to enriching your high school community is through adequately-designed calendars that use the technology that is already embedded in our daily lives.
We no longer live in a world where a school creates a PDF school calendar and shares it with the parents who would then print it out and stick it on their fridge. The communication between the school, parents, staff members and students has to flow seamlessly, and the easiest way to achieve that is through state-of-the-art website technology.
To make a functional, up-to-par high school calendar, it has to provide:
- An option to add school events to a personal calendar
- A customizable calendar view
- A mobile-friendly experience
- Social media sharing buttons
The Importance of Adding a School Event to a Personal Calendar
Because of the convenience it ensures, one could argue that this feature of a school calendar is the most important one.
People nowadays use online calendars provided by Apple, Yahoo!, Google, and Microsoft to organize their daily lives with ease. That is why it is important for a school calendar to allow parents to add various school events to their personal calendars.
While there are many different solutions to this issue, using iCal files is by far the most common one. iCal files were originally developed by Apple, but they have since become the industry standard for calendar data. High schools can make their calendars downloadable or even create iCal feeds to which users could subscribe and keep their personal calendars synchronized with all the new updates added to the school calendar.
Adding a school event to a personal calendar is not only convenient for the parents, but it ensures that students never miss out on important events.
Create a School Calendar With a Customizable View
A customizable calendar view is a trademark of modern, easy-to-use school calendars.
It is important to understand that parents, students, and staff members want to access the information that only pertains to them quickly. By allowing a customizable view, schools provide their calendar users with an option to filter the entries that are of no interest to them.
In a nutshell, a school calendar with a customizable view allows the high school to provide accurate information efficiently.
Create a School Calendar That Features Responsive Design
Because we have become dependent on our mobile devices, it is absolutely crucial that a school calendar features responsive design. All responsive design means is that the website content gets automatically adjusted to the device it is being viewed on.
Given that more than 50% of people use their mobile devices to check emails and social media updates, allowing them to view the school calendar on their devices with no pushback is essential.
High school students are no different — they practically live by their gadgets. A school calendar should be used as a tool that allows students to maximize their achievement by keeping them in tune with the school’s latest updates.
Shareable Events Are a Must-Have
Social media is a powerful tool for promoting crucial events. If a school calendar is equipped with social sharing buttons, news of important upcoming events will reach the high school community faster and in due time.
Adding social sharing buttons to a school calendar is not a difficult feat — most carefully crafted website calendars already have them built-in. Embedding “share this” and “add this” buttons to a calendar, alongside an “email to a friend” link, can drastically improve school communications.
Efficient communication improves group cohesion — both of which are essential for creating a school environment that fosters student achievement.
The Best Software for Creating a School Calendar
Image source: Tandem
Making a transition to a website calendar ensures effective communication within the school itself and between it and the whole district.
While many third-party apps allow you to create a school calendar for free, you should take your time to pick and choose the one that best suits your school’s needs — regardless of the cost. Keep in mind that the calendar must be fully useful, accessible, comprehensive, and highly manageable to achieve the best possible results.
Some of the best available school calendar software is:
- Google Calendar
Tandem is one of the most versatile calendar software on the market today.
Although the calendar is at the forefront of what Tandem has to offer, it boasts additional features that allow team member communication, event planning, scheduling updates, member notifications, and third-party calendar integration.
|Free Version||Enterprise Edition ($40/month)|
CalendarWiz gives high schools the option to put their calendar on CalendarWiz’s website, integrate it into their own websites, or even both.
The company tailors its calendars based on the needs of the industry interested in their software.
Google Calendar might be the best solution for high schools that want to create a printable school calendar free of charge.
The Google Calendar is included in Google’s familiar ecosystem that includes Gmail, Google Docs, Google Sheets, and other apps that are offered in a school-based format for free under Google Apps for Education.
Notable Google Calendar features include:
- Public calendars
- Event invitations
- Event searching
- Gmail and Microsoft Outlook integration
- Calendar sharing
- Mobile access
- Integration with iOS and Android calendar apps
High School Calendars Through the Eyes of Education Experts
Reinventing well-established systems is a sign of prudence and forward-thinking.
Although it is a bitter pill to swallow, facing the fact that our high school calendars are not the most effective can be a sobering experience and a catalyst for change.
In 2016, the Atlantic conducted a survey asking education experts to imagine a utopian learning system and all of its major constituents. While their answers diverged in certain areas, they had unanimously agreed on the fact that our educational system is far from perfect, and that our school calendars need to be seriously reconsidered.
In an effort not to exceed the scope of this article, we will share the thoughts of just a couple of experts on the topic of school calendars.
Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, said that:
“We will reimagine public education with multiple pathways for students to discover and pursue their own passions. So when we think about the calendar, we will think much less about identifying a magic number of days, and more about what students and communities need.
It isn’t simply more time in class. In countries that outperform us, students spend less time in class, not more. Children — especially young children — learn through play and activities.
Some kids may need a safe place in the evening, a meal during school breaks, or opportunities for engagement and learning outside of school hours. That’s where community schools can play a big role, especially in hard-hit areas — staying open late and year-round, offering a place for kids to find activities that keep them engaged and out of harm’s way.
And the summer learning gap holds back kids who live in poverty and don’t have the same opportunities for out-of-school learning as their more advantaged peers. We will ensure that kids have those kinds of opportunities in high-poverty communities, too. We will make sure schools are open longer hours for students and their families so they can stay engaged in learning through after-school and summer activities.
Carol Burris, the executive director of the Network for Public Education, said that:
Students in high-performing nations like Finland, Korea, and Japan spend the same or less time as American students in school. The myth that American students spend less time learning than students in other industrialized nations is not true. It is also clear from studies that increasing school time is very expensive, and there is little return in achievement. Reductions in class size and peer tutoring, for example, have been found to be far more effective.
That being said, we do know that students from disadvantaged homes experience summer reading learning loss, while students from affluent homes experience small gains, and all students lose a little bit of knowledge in mathematics in the summer. Rather than lengthening the school day, which exhausts young children and deprives older children of the opportunity to engage in extracurricular activities and sports, a better alternative is to provide targeted, enriched learning activities, especially in the summer.
A Better School Calendar Means a Happier School Community
Taking advantage of what technology has to offer nowadays is a safe path to improving school communications quickly, efficiently, and inexpensively. A neatly organized, comprehensive, and easily accessible high school calendar ensures a better schooling experience for the students, parents, and staff members.
Although it is often overlooked, a carefully crafted school calendar can help our educational system thrive by making the whole school community more engaged and the schooling experience less anachronous. It is one of the most important innovations schools across the U.S. need to implement.
How bright our future will be is in direct correlation with how progressive our educational system is today. Reimagining our school calendars is the best way to start making a change for the better — change that will embody progress and equality.
Do you have a tip to share, an innovative school calendar to show?
Let’s rethink high school together. Reach out to us and help make our vision a reality.