Last month we invited our signatories to contribute to the TSC blog answering one simple question: “Why should schools expand learning time?” Today’s submission is from golf enthusiast and former teacher, Dr. Thomas Johnson.

As a long time golfer and long time educator, I see a parallel between these two activities that recently came to me as I spent a day observing classes in a high school, and the next day playing golf. Essentially, it is that there is an assumption of equal competence that guides the design of administrative systems to support each, and that assumption is wrong.

In the golf situation, each foursome is spaced to start play eight minutes apart- all day long. However, the wide variation in the golfing skills of each player causes delays in pace of play and keeps the rangers busy moving golfers along for 18 holes. Golfer slice their drives, spend time looking for lost balls and putt slowly as if there is no reason to get off the green quickly. Taken as a whole, the assumption of equal competence, by starting all golfers out every eight minutes, slows pace of play for every golfer.

In the classroom, the weakness in design is the daily schedule of classes and the potential “down time” that immediately stops learning in these classes. It can be a teacher simply responding to a student question, or a “Writers Workshop” strategy that allows loss of teaching time; or simply a learning styles conflict between teacher and certain students that provides time for alternative student behavior during these scheduled classes (e.g. talking to others/head on desk/searching his/her I phone/texting using a computer to play a game etc) unrelated to the class topic. Lost time in class multiplies itself in lost learning for students. A second and obvious dynamic is the fact that students assigned to classes (with the exception of AP/Honors/IB) are grouped by age or by class strata (Freshman/Sophomore etc.), not by ability, which, like the golfers has as its basic flawed design, an “assumption of equal competence.

In both designs, adjustments need to be made, for the golfers to improve their game, time for coaching and practice away from the golf course will be required. Over time, as the golfer get better control over their shots and learn more about pace of play, the design of eight minutes per foursome becomes more efficient for all golfers. Also, for students to improve their learning more time has to be provided, for coaching and practice away from the normal schedule. This time, if carefully planned can allow for variations in learning strategies, more personal supervision of student progress and can offer time to invent learning contexts not bound by bells and tightly drawn schedules during the school day.

In both the golfing and schooling designs, the “assumption of equal competence” that drives the lock step eight minute starting time and in schooling the tightly scripted daily schedules that limit teaching flexibility is a flawed assumption. More flexibility is needed in terms of time spent getting better at the tasks involved with mastery in both Golf and Learning.

Changing running shoes while running, or painting the hull of a boat while it is still in the water are futile tasks. So are structural designs in golf and in education that assume equal competence among participants whose skills vary widely. In golf, it is the eight minute schedule that limits learning while doing, and in education it is the tight scheduling of classes and the assignment strategies that bring students and teachers together in a lock step schedule that limits the potential for higher levels of student learning.

Let’s get moving and build time flexibility in our schools to benefit students. The golfer, alas, are on their own.

Dr. Johnson has been a teacher/coach/counselor/School District Personnel Director/University Professor during a four decade career. He currently provides Human Resource and Professional Development consulting to schools and school districts. He has earned degrees from Boston College, Stanford University, and Harvard University. He lives on Cape Cod.