You are here

Blog: Wednesday, September 19th, 2018

20% Time in Schools?

By Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

Some of you may have heard about the concept of ‘20% Time.’ It is a concept which has been popularized by Google, but really has been used by many successful companies around the world for years. The idea is relatively simple, but has provided significant value to these companies. In a nutshell, the policy allows for employees of the company to work on whatever they wish for 20% of their day, providing (this is important) that it advances the company's mission in some way. It has been suggested that almost half of Google’s innovations have come from employees working on ideas during their 20% time. It makes sense when you think about it: people generally love to be challenged to do stuff they are passionate about, especially if it has value and will make the world a better place.

Shouldn’t this be true for our students? Would they not love to be challenged to create something that will make our lives better? It left me wondering what impact this would have on student learning if we instituted this practice in classrooms? What if we told our students that they could dedicate 20% of their class time to something they were passionate about as long as it advanced their learning of the big ideas, key concepts and skills associated with their particular course or disciplines? What if we told students in our Creative Writing 10 classes that for one period per week they could work on something related to one of the big ideas that they are passionate from that course? What if we did that with students in our middle schools? Primary classrooms?

These are some who might panic at the thought of doing this, as images of students running rampant and wasting valuable time run through your imaginations. However, if you think about it, we do this quite a bit already, at least at a cursory level. Consider how we utilize ‘Flex Time’ in our secondary schools. Students are given a choice (well, most of them) about going to a class where they would like to work. True, many of them select places where they may need extra help, but others seek out the class they are particularly excited about. This happens in middle and elementary schools, where students are given a choice to work on a preferred activity, and in elementary schools where they have adopted Genius Hour, for instance.

The trick for making this more meaningful in our schools is to structure it in such a way that it has value for our students, their teachers and parents. It would have to be thoughtfully designed to ensure that it was productive, and that students were accountable for their work, probably no different than how Google designs it for their employees. You might be pleasantly surprised about when kids can do when we create the conditions for them do so.

By Kevin Godden
Kevin Godden
Kevin Godden

By Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

Kevin has been the Superintendent of Schools for the Abbotsford School District since July 2011, overseeing some 19,000 students and 2,500 employees. Kevin is committed to student success in all forms and envisions a school district that can nimbly respond to the ever changing needs and interests of its students.