One of my favorite reflection activities in the classroom or after professional development is “I used to think…but now I think.”

It is simple and impactful.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend the final planning session with nine school planning teams that are developing plans for implementing Expanded Learning Time (ELT) in the 2013-2014 school year. The teams have participated in six planning sessions over the course of about six months. Yesterday was the culmination of that time and effort: the schools presented their new proposed schedules.

At the end of the day, the facilitator asked all the participants to reflect on the process using the “I used to think…but now I think” protocol. Most of the participants confessed that they used to think ELT wouldn’t work and wasn’t worth the effort or cost, but now [they] think a redesigned school day and year for their students is a necessary step for school improvement and academic enrichment.

One participant, a teacher, said she used to think that the schools low test scores were caused by socio-economic factors and that the challenges facing the school and the students couldn’t be fixed by adding more time. Now, after spending the past few months with her team planning for a redesigned and expanded school schedule, she thinks that more time can be part of the solution and an opportunity for the school to address inequality head on in order to provide a brighter future for their students.

That shift in mindset is powerful! It is a shift from a place of helplessness to a place of hopefulness. And she is right. Education can be an equalizer.
We know that all students have the ability to succeed if they are given the opportunity to do so. Schools have the possibility to, and therefore the obligation to, close the achievement gap. The life experiences often afforded to students from middle and upper income families outside of school (piano lessons, soccer, karate, tutoring, etc.) can be provided to all students through strategic use of time. We know that it is not just more time that makes the difference. It is more time spent well. The planning process that those school teams have gone through will help to ensure that it will be spent well, and that is important. It is just as important, that through the process, mindsets can change to be full of hope and high expectations.

After learning more about ELT, how would you complete, “I used to think…but now I think”?