20% Time Meets Mondays

Moving innovation to the beginning of the week make Mondays stink less.

Photo of David Harrington
22 10

Written by

Here is a short primer of 20% time, how it can be used in your classroom and how it can scale and eventually become a tradition or routine within your school or district.

20% Time

    • Overview—Participants spend 20% of their workweek on a project that isn’t directly related to their job.  This approximates to one day a week.

    • Passion—The idea behind the 20% concept is that when a person is working on a project they are passionate about, they are happier.  Happier employers are more creative.

    • Creativity—Creativity is what spawns innovation.  Innovation is key to most company’s success.

    • Collaboration—Most of 20% projects include more than 1 person.  Because of this, it allows the participants to collaborate with individuals they would otherwise never have met.

20% Time in the Classroom

    • Basic Ground rules (less is better)

    • When you tell students that they can spend 20% of their time working on a project that they are passionate about, expect confusion and mayhem.  In school, students are usually told exactly what to do (ie. syllabi, rubrics, etc.). This is different.

    • Schedule a few checkpoints.  This is not micro-managing.  This occurs routinely in the business world and allows for multiple iterations within one project.

    • If your class is having a difficult time with the concept of 20% time, start small.  Maybe a project that takes only 2 weeks.  After that, one that is a month.  Finally, one that is the remainder of a semester.

    • Expect an increase in self-confidence.  Everyone loves to be an expert at something.

Scaling 20% Time

    • There are no reasons why faculty and staff can’t lead by example.  If you participate in a 20% time project before assigning it to your class, you will automatically have a real-life example to provide to your class.

    • Once your administration notices the boost in morale that 20% time provides, try and leverage this to create a tradition or pattern within your school.

    • Most people are naturally attracted to new and creative ideas.  Therefore, expect high achievers to desire to teach at your school.  Google has been Fortune Magazine’s #1 Place to Work for multiple years.  Because of that, Google gets some of the best developers in the world as employees.

20% Time on Mondays

Now for the clincher: 20% time on Mondays makes an uptick in morale inevitable.  People typically dread Mondays, but with the promise of creativity, flexibility and passion, Mondays become the New Fridays.  Sit down with your principal and ask them if you can try this experiment.  Then sit down with your children and ask them what they would like to learn?

Evaluation results

2 evaluations so far

1. Potential for Impact: Imagine this solution had near perfect implementation. To what extent would this solution bring about a culture of innovation within a school or classroom?

A lot! This solution would greatly bring about a culture of innovation in schools or classrooms. - 100%

Somewhat. This solution would somewhat bring about a culture of innovation in schools or classrooms. - 0%

Not much. This solution might help with other things, but I don't see it really bringing about a culture of innovation within schools or classrooms. - 0%

2. Feasibility and Fit: To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement: If this solution were available to me right now, I would be able to use it with relatively low investment. (i.e. money, time, or skills).

Strongly agree (this solution strongly aligns to my/my school's current capacities). - 50%

Agree. - 0%

Neutral. - 0%

Disagree. - 50%

Strongly disagree (this solution would take a big lift in resources to pull off). - 0%

3. Adaptability: I could imagine this solution working well in a variety of school and classroom contexts across a diverse set of needs.

Absolutely! I could see this working for a variety of schools and classrooms with different or unique needs. - 50%

Somewhat. I could see this working for many schools and classrooms, but it might need some adjusting to fit a broad diversity of contexts. - 50%

Not a lot. This seems like it might be better suited to only a few contexts. - 0%

4. Scalability: To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement: This idea could be adopted by an ever-growing number of teachers or students without requiring significant changes.

Strongly agree (this solution could easily scale without any significant changes). - 50%

Agree. - 0%

Neutral. - 0%

Disagree. - 50%

Strongly disagree (this solution would require significant changes in order to properly scale). - 0%

5. Desirability: Do you wish this solution were available to you right now?

1 - Not a lot. There's not a big need for this right now and/or we use something already that fulfills a similar purpose in my school or classroom. - 0%

2 - 0%

3 - 0%

4 - 50%

5 - A lot! There's nothing like this already and I'd love to have it in my school or classroom. - 50%

View more

Team (7)

Melissa's profile
Melissa Lim

Role added on team:

"Melissa, plz join. I love your scheduling ideas."

David's profile
Charles's profile
Charles Shryock, IV

Role added on team:

"The daughter and I just talked yesterday about her sub days are so lame. Plz join my team and tackle this."

Mark's profile
Mark Carlucci

Role added on team:

"Mark, I like your idea of 1 step at a time.....Plz join my team."

Patrick's profile
Patrick Murray

Role added on team:

"My 20time is based on people becoming experts at something and then sharing that idea. Lets join forces...."

Donna's profile
Donna Teuber

Role added on team:

"Donna, I would love for you to join our team. Let's make it happen;)"

Britta's profile
Britta Wilk McKenna

Role added on team:

"Britta, Our messages are completely in sync... Can we combine them and will you join our team?"

This inspired (1)

Passion-based learning


Join the conversation:

Photo of Britta Wilk McKenna

I am a big fan of 20% time. At IMSA (Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy) we don't have regular "school" on Wednesdays by design. We call them "I" Days and they were intentionally created to allow upperclassmen to create their learning experiences. Some upperclassmen participate in SIR (student inquiry and research) where they design their own focusing question with a mentor and explore that all year and present findings in the spring to each other and their mentors. Other students sign up for internships with start-up companies (through our IMSA TALENT entrepreneurship program) and are paired with Chicago-area small businesses at 1871/other start-ups for a real time learning experience. Yet other students simply opt to use the day for student leadership experiences (service learning, work on clubs or independent study). Our sophomores (we are a 3 year public residential high school) have a different schedule with less freedom, but still have some free time on "I" Days to explore.

Our faculty and staff largely respond to helping the students with their project and facilitate their learning. Most of our SIR students leave campus (we bus them) and do their research/inquiry at Chicago hospitals, labs (like Fermilab or Argonne) or universities other sites, though some stay on campus. My current SIR student is developing a virtual reality tour of our school and is integrating data visualization into targeted rooms and locations to more effectively tell his story. His passion for VR is driving his project and he taught himself Blender and Unity and bought an Oculus Rift VR development kit last summer so he could hit the ground running - that is the type of passion we need to unleash in our students!

My role (on my students 20% time) is to provide community mentors for him and to ask questions as he progresses. As his mentor, I only need to try and stay one step ahead of him and make sure he has what he needs and is working safely. I guess you could call this part of my 20% as well since I accepted the challenge of mentoring him!

Photo of David Harrington

Wow, where do I start? You touched upon 20time, passion and mentoring.
20time-Sounds like it is alive and well at your school. Should I assume it is a magnet or high performing school? If so, what could we do to bring this into more challenging schools?
Passion-Your VR example is perfect. I was able to round up about 20 of the Google Cardboards and create a club. When they were just released, the app selection was depressing. Not anymore. If your school is able to procure some funds, you should look at the Google and GoPro combo that has 16 GP's on a device that can be constructed via a 3D Printer. Upload into YT for a a VR experience.
Mentoring-Enough good things cannot be said regarding the importance of Mentoring. It sounds like this is your piece to the puzzle. It appears that you leverage the community a lot. I know Google has various programs around mentoring. I also wrote an article on LinkedIn a month ago on it. Let me know if I can help connect the dots for Google and mentoring. If this idea moves forward, I would like to directly move mentoring into the discussion (further).

Photo of Britta Wilk McKenna

Great suggestion on the next step for cardboard. I maintain a Maker Squad of 9 students who help me order new technology for my space, maintain it and teach others (students and staff). Yes, our public school is for IL gifted and talented student throughout the state (residential, grades 10-12).

Photo of Rachel Mongin

Wow Britta! I'm really excited about your work with passion and mentoring. We are trying to do something similar on an elementary level. Our current challenge is connecting to businesses in our area who would be willing to provide mentors for young students. Our current solution is to engage passionate high school students in mentoring our younger students. So far that's working well, but we are looking for bigger opportunities for both our primary students and our secondary students.

View all comments