I’m no mathematician, but this equation, presented by Chris Smith, President & CEO of Boston After School & Beyond Monday at the Annual Boston After School & Beyond/PEAR conference, was manageable for me. Ok, that is a slight fabrication in that I had to talk it through with my real mathematician friend to fully build this post! But I thought framing the conference with this equation was extremely helpful in understanding the game changers needed to personalize learning to increase student success in school and beyond.

Time as a game changer was echoed throughout the day but for me, it was what Rahn Dorsey, Evaluation Director from the Barr Foundation, had to say that stuck with me. For Dorsey, time means opportunity. If we can create meaningful opportunities and make connections that make students want to go to school, then we have done our job. To do this, Dorsey said, we must be rethinking how we are using time and how we can engage more people to expose our students to more opportunities. We must be flexible – flexible with time, educational settings, and attitudes in order to create an atmosphere that improves the quality of experiences we award our students.

No one entity can do this alone. By changing the variable of time, we may better find that “secret sauce” that balances intrinsic motivations with core understandings for kids. More time necessitates personalized approaches to education and community partnerships. These elements create deeper collaboration, strengthen instruction, and above all else, create more meaningful opportunities for both students and teachers.

In the “Partnerships to Increase Learning Time & Opportunities” session with two TSC Signatories, NCTL co-founder and president Jennifer Davis and TASC president Lucy Friedman, it was helpful for the audience to hear the barriers to this seemingly common sense movement. The conclusion: We seem to get in our own way when it comes to expanding learning time.

The momentum for expanding learning time is here like never before, but teacher contracts, budget constraints, and most importantly our culture, keep us from the robust reform we know is possible in our schools. It’s truly hard to imagine what expanding learning time can really offer our schools and communities. The little brick school house, pen and paper, one teacher in front of the class, the two o’clock dismissal, three months of summer vacation – these have all been deeply engrained into how we think about “school.”

There are strong examples across the country of how completely redesigning the way we use time and people in our schools can better serve high-poverty communities. And if we can shed our historical ideologies and shift our paradigms of what school looks like, I think we will be better suited in getting our students to the distances we know are possible.