Every February, my focus begins to shift. We’ve gotten into the second semester at our high school and now, my attention goes to planning for the next school year. The most arduous and intensive component of planning for the upcoming year is always tied to building the master schedule. I secretly love the process. Even though it takes a ton of time and can be stressful, I love seeing it all come together. I’ve also come to realize that how I build the schedule is important because the work I do makes a difference in the lives of teachers, students, and serves to shape our school’s culture.
In my experience, there are many who are tasked with creating their school’s master schedule who do not enjoy the process. I feel that pain and so I want to share some of the lessons I have learned and outline the process I go through to build our schedule. My goal is that hopefully this will be helpful and ease some of the stress that each spring can bring.
Start the Daily Schedule
I won’t say much about this here because spring is probably later than you should be thinking about a change to your school’s daily schedule. What I mean by this is:
- Start and end time
- How many blocks (6, 7, 8, or 9)
- Length of each block
- Pattern of the blocks
- When to place whole school assembly time (chapel, advisory, etc)
There are dozens of choices that can be made that impact your daily schedule. I wanted to mention this as a prerequisite to the master schedule conversation because I think it is worth walking through a process of evaluating the priorities of your school’s community and honestly reflecting on whether the daily schedule serves these objectives. If it does not enrich the work that is being done in the classroom, then it is important to go through the challenge of redesigning the school day.
In my experience, this is not an easy process. Every teacher and every department has their own preferences and priorities that can make it difficult to blend together. This is why I do not recommend introducing a new schedule in the spring of a school year. To be done well, this really needs to be an initiative that takes about a year to hear from all of those involved, define shared priorities for the schedule, present possible new schedules, gather additional feedback, and then present a final schedule.
A quick aside: our school moved to an eight period schedule four years ago and it has been tremendously helpful in reducing our schedule conflicts for kids. Going from seven to eight periods is helpful to free up conflicts and enable students to make better use of the offerings we have. I do not think we would ever go back to a seven period schedule because of the benefits it has provided for our school.
A new daily schedule will require significant change within the school’s student information system (Blackbaud, Infinite Campus, Veracross, RenWeb, etc…). Whatever the new parameters are for a daily schedule need to be programmed into these systems prior to undertaking building the new master schedule. Teachers and students need to know what to expect in the schedule prior to making their own choices and so if a school is introducing a new daily schedule, this should be shared in advance of these choices.
Before you Start: Mission, People, and Culture Matter too
My view on the role of the master schedule changed about four years ago. Our school had gone through the painful process of creating a new daily schedule and now I was making the master schedule for teachers and students. I was doing this in isolation. I had locked myself away and was trying to work through the thousand minute details. In our system, teachers teach five of eight blocks. So, I had choices to make about how I scheduled individual teachers and where their classes fell in the master schedule.
With one of my science teachers, I was setting her schedule and made an assumption about what she would like best. It was convenient with some other courses to have her teach two classes, have a period off, teach two more classes, have a period off, teach one class, and then have a period off. I remember this moment vividly because I made a very intentional choice for her.
I continued on and over the next couple of days finished the master schedule. We had a faculty meeting the following week and I was sharing with teachers each of their personal schedules for the next year. They got a sheet that showed which courses and which periods they were teaching. With the new daily schedule, I thought teachers would be happy and excited. The presentation to the faculty went well and there did not seem to be any push back. Unbeknownst to me, that science teacher was heartbroken all day. The longer the day went on, the more convinced she was that it was going to be debilitating for her. At the end of the day, she was in my office sobbing. She felt that the small chunks of time were going to make her teaching life miserable the next year. I was so surprised because I remembered making such a deliberate choice on her schedule. I thought I was doing her a favor but I saw that my assumption was completely wrong and I saw the kind of heartache it created for her.
We were able to work through correcting her schedule in a way that was life giving. Going through that process made me realize two critical lessons:
- I should not make assumptions about what type of schedule someone might want
- It is far easier to construct a schedule knowing all of my teachers’ desires rather than reconstructing the schedule once it is done
Putting the Pieces Together
With an understanding of the basic foundation of the school’s daily schedule and the culture that is being cultivated, we can begin putting the pieces together. Next, we’ll tackle what that process looks like and how I began gathering all of the necessary information to assemble the master schedule.
Zach has been in education for over a decade. He has been a classroom teacher, speech and debate coach and an administrator. In his current role, he works with families as they go through the college admissions process and serves on Valor’s Academic Leadership Team. He is a Colorado native and has been married to Jen, who is an elementary teacher, for fourteen years. They have three young boys.