Schools are busy places.  And we only get a limited number of minutes each day to make the most of every opportunity we have with our students.  To make to do so requires teachers to be aware of what adds value to learning and what distracts from learning. 

Flatlined Achievement Time, is one way to discribe time that students spend at school where they are not meaningfully engaging in activities that lead to achievement.  This time is what I refer to as FAT.  Schools or classrooms that have to much FAT are doing their students a disservice. 

There are many times during a typical school day that FAT is present.  All of the following can be described as FAT:

    • Waiting for the teacher to return from the staffroom after break
    • Messy transitions between classes or subjects
    • Writing long dates and no necessary details and lines in books
    • Miss-matched activities to intended learning objectives
    • Colouring in, word finds, drawing pictures for their writing
    • At times publishing too many pieces of writing

Students can be experiencing FAT while they look very engaged.  If you asked a group of students to play a game on their device, they would likely look very engaged, however, they are not likely engaging in meaningful learning. 


It would be a lazy and cruel teacher who would want to waste students time at school through the continually inclusion of FAT in the classroom.  However, the issue with FAT is that there is often small doses of FAT experienced throughout the day that, over time, add up to a lot of FAT. 

Consider messy transitions between subjects during the day.  Now, I am a realist and have been a teacher for too many decades to mention so I am well aware that transitions are a necessary part of the day and it is almost impossible to eliminate them.  The FAT is experienced when transitions are messy and take longer than they need.  Let’s consider a classroom where transitions take on average one minute longer than it needs to when transitioning.  And there were just four transitions per day and 200 school days a year. 

In the above scenario, there are about three school days of learning each year wasted to FAT, just because the teacher has not streamlined the transition process. 

Now consider the teacher who hears the school bell signalling the end of a break time and then uses the bathroom and makes a coffee to take back to class.  Interesting reflection on Pavlov’s bell causing teachers to need coffee and pee when the bell rings. Assuming this takes 4 minutes each time (maybe a little too quick) and happens just two times a day.  That would equate to another 5-6 days of FAT each year. 

Furthermore students who spend just one hour per week on meaningless, busy work, there would be another eight days gone to waste for the school year. 

Before we dig too deep into where FAT exists, a couple of weeks of learning each year is sacrificed to FAT.


Not all FAT is bad.  Engaging in learning at 100% intensity is simply exhausting. The master teacher knows how to use FAT intentionally to ultimately create the best learning environment for their learners. Like relationship, time is a precious commodity in the classroom. The master teacher is aware of how little time they have and uses it wisely. 

The mediocre teacher is most often unaware of the ways FAT is present within their learning environment. The worst of teachers know and don’t care, they just want the students to work on something that keeps them quiet. 


  1. Are you aware of that FAT exists within your learning environment?
  2. How can you use FAT to maximise the performance of your learners?