FLEX and SEL aren’t working. Somebody needs to budge.

Naomi Hancock, Opinion Editor

“We’ve just dipped our toes into the water,” Liberty principal Andrew Brownson said. “We need a little more time with FLEX to iron out the smaller things that are fixable, but also have a good grasp of what this should look like in the future.” 

His answer comes after waves of feedback following the recent implementation of a new seven-period schedule that includes one FLEX and one Social/Emotional Learning (SEL) period every week, and the response has been overwhelmingly negative. 

At the forefront of these complaints has been the chaos of both FLEX and SEL. Short for “Flexible time,” FLEX intends to give students 40 minutes in the workweek to ask their teachers questions, makeup quizzes, and finish homework. It also allows students to take a breather, a free period perfect for the weeks approaching mid-terms, academic competitions, and for seniors, college application deadlines. 

But the first month-and-a-half of FLEX wasn’t what was promised–––for both students and staff. The idea of one FLEX period and one SEL presentation every week was only introduced to teachers one week before school started. 

“I was looking forward to the opportunity to spend time with my students and help them outside of designated class hours,” one Liberty teacher said. “I was very disappointed with that because I don’t feel like that was how it was sold to the community.”

That’s been the general feeling regarding FLEX and SEL. It’s hard for mentally unprepared teachers to teach SEL lessons to their students, especially when they only have a seven-day heads-up before dozens of students enter their classrooms. And while the messages SEL aim to talk about are important, many of their topics are extremely sensitive, like equity, cyberbullying, and suicide awareness. 

It’s a challenge for anybody, teacher or not, to have these conversations with students. It’s even harder when these students aren’t comfortable talking about personal feelings and opinions with people they hardly know.

It doesn’t help that the lessons themselves are hard to follow and challenging to engage with. Unlike the elementary and middle school SELs, there is no developed package the district can purchase for the high school level. It’s being made throughout the year by well-intended people under a deadline, and the result is that an overwhelming amount of people are claiming SEL to be out of touch.

The presentations are long and packed with information that is hard to fit into a 40-minute period. There’s no time to “turn and talk” or discuss with your class, even if students are prompted to. Something as simple as a moderated dialogue could make the lessons infinitely more effective, but students are being told how to act and what to say through a slideshow jam-packed with content. 

“It would be better to have a guest speaker,” one Liberty senior said. “People would show more respect and value the messages more if it’s coming from somebody in front of them.” 

The consent assembly the school hosted three years ago is a fantastic example formatted in an engaging, relatable, and digestible way. If both the district and school could find a way to adjust to feedback regarding FLEX and SEL, it might strengthen the messages and intent.

“Where I would like to see the SELs go is shortened, 5-10 minute lessons,” said Brownson, “where students could watch a video and turn and talk. Building that in would allow another half hour to get extra help from your teachers or homework time.”

But it is important to remember what Brownson said: we’ve just dipped our toes into the water. We’re two months into the year with three official FLEX periods in action, and we have the rest of the school year to figure it out together. 

Everybody, from administrators to teachers to those at the district level, is learning more with each passing week. Brownson is looking forward to the next few months, hoping that once people are settled in, the administration can survey to take the school’s temperature. 

FLEX and SEL have been successful elsewhere, and with time, they can work at Liberty, too.