Making the Transition from Fixed Scheduling to Flexible Schedulingschedule.jpg

The Benefits of Flexible Scheduling

Scholars, administrators, teachers, and school media specialists have spent many years in debate over whether schools libraries should operate under a fixed or flexible schedule. While it has been accepting as the best practice in virtually all junior high and high school libraries, the debate rages on in the elementary schools. Even though the American Library Association/American Association of School Librarians has issued a position statement that states that “classes need to be flexibly scheduled into the library on an as needed basis”, not every school has adopted this practice (2011). A 2006 study by Lance, Rodney, Russel shows that 56.3% of schools continue to conduct the library scheduling on a fixed schedule (48).

There are a variety of reasons to make the transition between fixed scheduling and flexible scheduling. To clarify, flexible scheduling should be defined as being “characterized by classes meeting in the library media center based on instructional and curricular need, rather than on a set calendar” (Hurley 36). Fixed scheduling can tie up valuable resources available in only the library as well as prevent collaborative teaching opportunities between school media specialists and educators (Pappas 36). Jane Peters make the point that the curriculum has shifted due to standardized testing, and it requires that teachers must implement information literacy skills in their classes, which requires time and resources with the library equipment, which can only be accomplished through flexible scheduling (3).
While there is an argument to be made for fixed scheduling, most notably Doug Johnson’s article ‘It’s Good to be Inflexible,’ more research is supporting flexible scheduling. A frequent complaint with flexible scheduling is that you cannot teach students that you do not see, the worry being that some teachers would schedule library time and some would not (Johnson 39). But a study by Miller and Shontz reported that collaborative planning between teachers and school media specialists in flexible schedules has increased to 79%, while collaboration in combination or fixed schedules dropped to 52% in the same time period (53). With the right approach and knowledge, school media specialists can transition their schools from operating in a fixed scheduling to a flexible schedule.

Strategies and Advice on Making the Transition
Enlist the Support of Administration

The first campaign step towards flexible scheduling is to meet with the principal (Creighton 25). McGregor states that successful transitions are consistently connected to principal support (9). Principals desire the best for their students and want to be current to successful trends in education. Creating a shared vision with the administration that will ultimately grant or deny permission to transition the scheduling is vital. It would be wise to prepare research material ahead of time and present materials that indicate the benefits and to structure your argument in the defense that it would meet a specified need, such as raising student reading scores or information literacy levels (Pappas 36) (Creighton 25). Ensure that flexible scheduling does not violate any state or district policies by checking websites such as this website (Creighton 25).

Find and Use Exemplars

Search for schools that have fully transitioned to flexible scheduling in a successful manner. If they are local, arrange a site visit to the school (Pappas 37). It could be very effective to invite the principal or other teachers along, especially in the planning stages of flexible scheduling. School faculty can see flexible scheduling in action and better understand the vision you have for the school media center. This can better encourage the principal to implement flexible scheduling after seeing a model that works well. Teachers who attend the site visit could share their experiences in a faculty or departmental meeting (37).

If there is not an exemplary school nearby using flexible scheduling, studying successful models is an effective alternative. The Library Power Program is a commonly used example of a positive transitional experience (Creighton 26). Library Power was started in 1988 and has revived over 700 public schools in 19 low-income communities by providing funding to build collections, support professional development in faculty, and to initiate flexible scheduling. Since the start of flexible scheduling in Library Power schools, the number of weekly student visits to the library has increased distinctly (Hurley 40). The Wallace Foundation documents the success and details of Library Power. By using these successful examples, the trepidation to upset the old, accepted ways may not seem as daunting when you consider the potential success in the change.

Begin with a Slow Transition

Flexible scheduling will undoubtedly drastically affect the daily life of teachers, administrators, and other school faculty. Be mindful and considerate of how the change impacts them. It might be prudent to make the transition slowly, possibly over several school years. Karen Jostiak writes about her three-year transition experience in which she would add a flexible period in her schedule every quarter and was pleasantly surprised as it slowly caught on (49). Another author suggests swapping entire days until the library has successfully transitioned out of the combination flex/fixed scheduling (Pappas 37). Marjorie Pappas advises school media specialists to expand the flexible schedule slowly, but steadily (37). The Massachusetts School Library Association has produced a chart of different fixed/flexible scheduling options during transition periods that can be accessed here.

Focus on Teacher Collaboration

Before or early in the transition, you may want to target a few teachers to work with in a collaborative manner to expose the faculty to the opportunities that flexible scheduling will present in their classrooms. Teachers may be hesitant to the shift, seeing it as a loss of their ‘plan time’, but by showing them that the students’ time in the library can benefit their teaching, they may understand that it will ultimately benefit their students and themselves (Pappas 37). Introducing new technology or resources the library has acquired may be a good start in interesting teachers to sign up for flexible scheduling time slots. Most elementary school teachers have only viewed the library as a ‘specials’ class, and they probably do not have a grasp on what the library has to offer. Teachers need to be apart of the shared vision of the library; include them in the planning process as stakeholders in a change-nurturing environment (Creighton 25). Creating a committee or planning team with interested teachers may be a very beneficial jumpstart for flexible scheduling support.

Karen Jostiak writes that, at the introduction of the flexible scheduling, she “cornered the teachers while they were in the library, offering to teach research skills, work on projects and partner with them for future units” (48). While some teachers may be initially resistant, the library media specialist can begin sharing successful collaboration stories with teachers in the hopes that other teachers will begin taking note. It will require patience; but teachers will eventually see that successful collaboration can make their teaching more effective (i.e., having a research workshop during a research paper writing unit). By having flexible scheduling, teachers can also direct students to the library when the student needs individual assistance with seeking information.

Develop a Collaborative Disposition

While the transition to a flexible schedule system can alter an entire school’s way of life, it ultimately falls on the shoulders of the school library media specialist. Therefore, it is important for he/she to develop the personality traits that will serve them well under a different regime that focuses on teacher to school media specialist collaboration. McGregor lists the following as characteristics of successful library media specialists: “…flexibility, energy, a sharing and facilitating mindset, competence, persistence, awareness of national trends and best practices, a sense of humor, enthusiasm, and an ability to deal with many different kinds of people”(17). School librarians must partner with teachers in an entirely different way than previous, and those who want to succeed must take steps to be good team players and communicators. This may require the media specialist to spend more time in the classroom, becoming familiar with what is being taught and with curriculum so that their instruction can better assist what is already occurring in the current instruction.

Consider the Needs of the Students

There is a reason flexible scheduling is widely accepted in middle and high school libraries; it just makes sense with their information-seeking needs. However, the elementary school has a much wider range of users and uses. An elementary school can generally never be completely transitioned into flexible scheduling. Almost all elementary schools will want to retain their regular library check-outs, and the very young grades will not have as much exposure to the library, so some portion of regular scheduling must be maintained (Jostiak 49).

Stop, Evaluate, and Share
If the initial reason to make the transition was to fulfill a certain educational goal, ensure that you are indeed, meeting that goal. During the combination fixed/flexible scheduling, evaluations need to be completed to show support for flexible scheduling. Document any evidence of students’ learning experiences during flexible scheduling, whether is it collaborated lesson plans, student’s work, test scores, etc. (Pappas 37). The connections between flexible scheduling and student improvement should be clear. It would benefit the school to share these results, either in newsletters, faculty meetings, and parent teacher organizations (37). If the results are indicating that students are benefitting from flexible scheduling, even the most hesitant teachers may reconsider the view on the change.

Do Not Expect Instant Success

Peggy Creighton reminds readers that staff members will accept the change at different stages (26). Some instructors might open up to the exciting possibilities, but others may be considering the impact it will have on their lesson planning and curriculum and may be hesitant. Still others may not see the use of library instruction in the class times that are not devoted to language arts and not even consider the possibilities, such as specials teachers. It falls to the school media specialist to think creatively to bring these classes into the library.

Some of the time the delay can be related to teachers being defensive about their time, other instances can be a result of teachers not being aware of the possibilities. Karen Jostiak remembers the first month of initial implementation being spent dusting and doing chores around the library until she began actively seeking out teachers (49). McGregor observed in her study that a feeling of success among school media specialists with flexible scheduling implementation took years to accomplish (19). Patience and persistence is necessary to carry this endeavor out.


Creighton, P. (2008). FLEXIBLE SCHEDULING: MAKING THE TRANSITION. School Library Media Activities Monthly, 24(5), 24-27.

Hurley, C. A. (2004). Fixed vs. Flexible Scheduling in School Library Media Centers: A Continuing Debate. Library Media Connection, 23(3), 36-41.

Johnson, D. (2001). It's good to be inflexible. School Library Journal, 47(11), 39.

Jostiak, K. (2007). Fixed versus Flexible: A Three-Year Journey to Compromise. Teaching Librarian, 14(2), 48-49.

Lance, K., Rodney, M. & Russell, B. (2007). How students, teachers and principals benefit from strong school libraries. The Indiana study. Indiana Library Federation. Association for Indiana Media Educators: Indianapolis, IN.

McGregor, J. (2006). Flexible Scheduling: Implementing an Innovation. School Library Media Research, 1-34

Miller, M., & Shontz, M. (2003). The SLJ Spending Survey. School Library Journal, 49(10) 52-59

Pappas, M. (2005). Changing to Flexible Scheduling. School Library Media Activities Monthly, 21(7), 36-37.

Peters, J. (2004). In Support of Flexible Scheduling in a School Media Center. Florida Media Quarterly, 29(4), 3-5.

Position Statement on Flexible Scheduling. (2011). American Library Association. Retrieved November 19, 2013, from