If you’re a school administrator, then you know how difficult it can be to create a schedule for every student. You have to consider the needs and credentialing of your own teachers. You need to adhere to district expectations. You must also anticipate the needs of your students and families. Master scheduling can truly be a giant puzzle that you and your team must solve. In this article, we’ll cover some important things you need to consider when setting up and maintaining an efficient master schedule that works for everyone.
Creating a master schedule will likely require you to work for weeks off of a giant whiteboard in your office. On this whiteboard, you should have all the subjects as well as all of your teachers written down onto individual magnetized strips. If you don’t have strips, you can use post-its. Whatever you choose, know that you will likely move these placeholders around several times before you are done, so make sure you use something durable.
You should create a large process grid that has all of the subjects you plan to offer on the left and the corresponding periods across the top. Once you have this setup, you are ready to move around your teachers as you place them onto the board.
Understand Your SIS and How to Use It
Your Student Information System (SIS) will be where you build out every schedule for every student. After you have completed your master schedule grid with all of your periods and your teachers mapped out, you will need to work with your office team (usually assistant principals and academic counselors) to input individual student schedules. If you are walking into your role for the first time, know that your team should have gathered much of this information from students over the previous quarter (end of last school year). Ideally, they have an idea of student preferences and needs. Involve them heavily in this process.
Once you have all of your students into the SIS scheduler, a good SIS will highlight any potential conflicts so you can problem-solve. This saves you a lot of time. If you are not familiar with how to utilize your SIS, you can reach out to your district office to ask for specific training. You can also leverage the experience of your team, as they likely have had experience with the particular software your school uses.
Considerations When Building Out Your Master Schedule
Coordinate With Your Teachers
When you’re creating a master schedule, it’s important to coordinate with other teachers. While you have the final say in the master schedule, it is always a good idea to have input from your team. Certain teachers may prefer morning or afternoon prep. Other teachers, such as your band director, may prefer a prep after or before lunch so they can hold events over the lunch period. While you won’t be able to honor all requests, soliciting this feedback through a survey is always a good idea.
While this may seem obvious, you need to make sure that the classes you are asking teachers to teach fall within their authorized credentialing. You do not want to find yourself in a situation where you are starting the school year and realize that you legally cannot have a teacher teach the class or period you asked them to. This is particularly important when considering English Learner (EL) authorizations.
At the middle school level, considering that many of your teachers will have multiple subject credentials, you can consider having core classes such as English and social studies back to back. This usually makes it easier for you to schedule students as the same group of students will be with the same teacher for two periods, alleviating the additional period you need to find student placement for.
Make Sure You Have Enough Time for Each Subject
At the middle school level, there are certain subjects that all students must take, such as English and math. Then, there are electives. Your primary responsibility is to ensure that all students are placed into the necessary core subjects. Once you have verified that all students are able to access the required courses, then you can look at placing students into their requested electives. In reality, you will be looking at both required classes and electives at the same time as you are moving around teachers and periods to meet the needs of your student population.
Schedule Time for Enrichment Activities and Electives
When you are making your master schedule, don’t forget about the importance of offering opportunities for students outside of core classes such as math and English. The number of classes you can offer will be determined by your FTE, the credentialing of your teachers, and other specific factors. However, the more enrichment classes you can offer generally results in an easier master scheduling process. This makes the process easier because you have more options to place students into. If you only have two to three electives, then your elective classes will be large, and there are only so many periods that they can be offered. However, when you are able to offer more courses, then you have more flexibility in your scheduling. This is usually the best-case scenario, as it opens up more opportunities for students and allows teachers to teach subjects they are passionate about.
Know The Maximum Student Contact Hours and Class Ratios
Ensure you abide by the teacher contract for ratios and overall student contact hours. Your teacher contract, as well as board policies, will dictate the maximum number of student contact hours in a day that a teacher can be asked to have. In addition, these same policies should tell you the maximum ratio for any particular classes, if they exist. These policies can vary by district but will fall within those spelled out in Ed Code.
Some teacher union contracts allow for teachers to surpass the maximum ratios if the teacher requests such an increase. However, in these instances, there is always a compensation complement attached. Generally, the teacher is paid at an hourly rate for each student over the maximum contracted numbers. In the rare case where you may need to palace one or two additional students in a class, you should at least be aware of the options you have here.
Consider Student Needs
Students at your school will have different needs, even if they are in the same grade. You’ll want to make sure that students are challenged, while also giving them opportunities to get extra help they need. One way to do this is by including a flex period in your schedule.
A flex period can provide opportunities for extra help, enrichment, or deeper learning and extension depending on student needs. Some districts focus on the concept of “tracking” students here, while others discourage the practice. As an administrator, you should be aware of whether or not your district finds this acceptable. Like many decisions you have to make as a leader, there are pros and cons to this.
Don’t Forget About Teacher Prep Periods
As you build out the master schedule, don’t forget about prep periods for your teachers. Depending on the schedule you have in place (block or period), you may need a prep period every day for each teacher, or every other day. Some teachers, such as activity directors, may have two preps during the day. If you are a new administrator, it is recommended that you have a clear understanding of what preps your teachers are entitled to, and any additional prep periods certain positions may have.
Plan for Different Class Sizes
It’s important to plan for different class sizes when creating a master schedule. You should consider the ideal class size for each subject and make sure that your schedule can accommodate different class sizes. PE classes, for example, may have more students than an AP calculus class traditionally would. Again, you need to have a clear understanding of both the teacher union contract and district policies regarding maximum class ratios.
Some classes, such as honors and electives, may require a minimum of students. Although rare, you might come across the scenario where you may not be able to offer a class because you do not have enough students who want to take the class. When this happens, the best thing to do is to reach out to your counselors and community liaisons and think of creative ways to reach out to families you may decide to enroll in the class. Otherwise, you will have to notify the teacher that they will need to teach a different subject for that period.
Special Education and Other Needs
There may be some students who have special circumstances that need to be considered when creating a master schedule. One very specific aspect you should consider is how many 1:1 aides are in a classroom. Ideally, you do not want to end up with a class that has a dozen aides while other classes do not have any. An aide is a legal obligation required for particular students based on their individualized education plan (IEP).
When you’re creating a master schedule for your school, there are various things you have to take into account in order to make it work for your site. A good site administrator will work with their team as they place emphasis on these individual components. In the end, you should be able to produce a master schedule that addresses the needs of both your students and your teachers. This process can and should take a significant amount of time, so it is advisable that you get started as soon as you have all of the information you need. Now that you better understand what goes into creating a master schedule for middle school, it is time to get started. Have fun with this creative process, and have a great school year!