Mastering the Master Schedule: Fulfill Your School’s Mission (Part 2)

Zach GautierInnovationLeave a Comment


In part 1 of this post, I proposed that it is worth asking foundational questions about how the schedule can serve the mission of the school. I believe intentionality around the basic areas of the daily life of students and teachers can affirm or inhibit the direction of the institution. Now, we look toward the nuts and bolts of how to build the master schedule.

Define your Parameters

Before beginning to place any classes, you must define all of the parameters that will shape the master schedule. This can include:

  • How many rooms do you have?
  • Which rooms are used for which classes?
  • Are any new courses being offered this year?
  • How many sections of each course will be offered?
  • Which courses will each teacher be assigned to?
  • Do any courses need to be placed in a specific period in the schedule? (Example: our AP Calc B/C class needs to go in one specific period because it allows for a longer testing time after school)
  • Are there planning periods or departmental off periods that will drive the schedule?
  • Are there part-time teachers who have specific restrictions on their schedule?

After my interaction with my science teacher, I began thinking through how I could solicit the desires of each teacher on what their preferred schedule will be. So in addition to the above parameters, three years ago, I began taking requests from the teachers on what their preferred schedule would be. I realized that this would open the flood gates but I felt like I would rather know what would be helpful for my teachers instead of making assumptions for them. I place a clear disclaimer that not every request can be fulfilled but that I want to know what could help them and why.

In late February each year, I sent an email to the teachers and tell them they have one week to email me their requests. At the end of that week, I reserve the right to not fulfill additional requests that come in. I also set expectation on what types of requests are appropriate:

  • Does it help having a specific class in a particular period?
  • Do you like having one big chunk of time off or do you like your off blocks spaced out?
  • Is there a particular block that you need to have off?

Quickly it became evident that almost all of our teachers wanted one particular color block off in the schedule because they felt it was hard teaching kids at the end of the day on Friday. I had to set a rule where this could not be requested.

I then take the requests and place them on a white board in my office. To me, the resulting list of requests is a thing of beauty.

With the help of my registrar, we work through all of these requests as I schedule each individual department. We have the advantage that we are about a thousand students in our high school. This gives us the ability to accommodate more than if we were smaller. This type of system may not be realistic at other schools because of a variety of constraints. However, I would encourage you that hearing from teachers, even when a request cannot be fulfilled, makes them feel valued and a part of this process. Too frequently, like I did before, the master schedule is handed down from on high and those decisions that are made impact the daily life of teachers for a full year. Giving them a voice in the process has helped the climate amongst our teachers.

Setting Patterns

Once I have solicited feedback from teachers, worked with our department heads to ensure that our projected number of sections for each class is correct, then I shift my thinking and try to anticipate the needs of the students. With a thousand students, it is impossible to avoid all of the conflicts in students’ schedules. However, as I think through the types of students we have and the general types of classes they select, I can try to avoid these conflicts as much as possible.

We will look at all of our “singleton” class – those classes that we only offer for one section. I will place these courses first and attempt to distribute them across all eight periods so as to limit the conflict. When we have multiple singletons in the same department (ie – AP Phys C and AP Chem), I will check the course registrations to ensure that we do not have any students who are wanting to take both classes that year. If there are no students taking both, then I will place them in the same period. Inevitably, I do have to place singleton courses against each other whether it be a high level arts course, elective, or a unique AP class. When this happens, I try to evaluate interest from students and place them most efficiently.

After these singleton courses are placed, I will begin working through the master schedule one department at a time. Since our teachers typically teach multiple courses, I find scheduling the entire department better than trying to schedule by grade level.

As I go through each member of the department, I will attempt to fit the various requests of teachers together in a complementary manner. For example, I will look at the entire team teaching US History. It is important for us that we have US History offered in as many periods as possible for effective scheduling but I will also weigh this against the desires of the teachers. Typically, there is enough variance that I can make the different teacher requests come together. It does not always work but in the past three years, I have been able to limit the unfilled teacher requests to less than five each year.

This past year, there were sixty-five requests from our teachers. Even though I cannot meet the needs of all our faculty, the level of appreciation that teachers show is great. I have found that working to tailor the schedule to meet the needs of both teacher and student serves to undergird the culture we look to create. Each year it happens, our new teachers are the ones that are the most surprised by the solicitation of their requests. It can be daunting to think about adding this on, but I believe it is worth it.

Why Thoughtful Master Planning Matters

Last year we purchased a giant board that visually represents the master schedule at Valor. I love the value that this board provides because it brings others into the scheduling process. More importantly though, it helps illustrate the magnitude of this process.

Often completing the master schedule can just feel like a massive task that distracts from the real work that needs to be accomplished. As you go into this season, I’d encourage you to see the process differently. I love this time of year because it allows me to reflect on the unique and important privilege of shaping the daily lives of students and teachers for the next school year. It is a tremendous responsibility.

I pray that each of us might be able to engage this process with a sense of humility and a desire that the daily lives of students and teachers would be enriched and that God would be honored through the task.


  • Zach Gautier

    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.

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