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  • Writer's pictureAlison Hamacher

Best Practices for School Scheduling at Middle and High Schools

Scheduling can be daunting, and with the increase in time demands and meeting student needs, school leaders have many considerations when creating their school’s master schedule. Many try different options to maximize time for students and teachers, but other factors such as shared staff, PLCs, enrichment, intervention, course offerings, and so much more are factored in. Let’s look at some tips that could help schools implement innovative scheduling strategies.




1) Coordinate Shared Staff 

We all recognize the importance of efficient scheduling, which ensures staff members are utilized effectively and strategically across multiple buildings. Coordinating the schedules of shared staff and being mindful of the best days and times for your staff to be in your building can ensure maximized teacher support and preparation, foster stronger relationships with students, and provide equitable student enrichment opportunities. Seamless scheduling for shared staff can lead to a more coherent learning experience for students, which in turn produces better student outcomes. 


For instance, teachers that are .5 FTE in your building due to .5 FTE at another versus their 1.0 FTE in one building counterparts, often have data that shows the impact of their time constraints around preparation, professional development, and collaboration due to their split assignments and travel. This can lead to a negative impact on student outcomes. When staff members collaborate around their students' learning, making valuable instructional decisions, it leads to a seamless learning experience for students, regardless of who is teaching the sections. Proactive thinking and planning around coordinating shared staff has a few additional bonuses, such as budgetary cost effectiveness, minimum loss of instructional time, reduced travel time for the staff, and increased job satisfaction, which is critical now more than ever, and benefits the school community as a whole.


2) Incorporate PLCs and Collaborative Teacher PD

Ensuring that student learning is aligned across different grades and curricula is essential. By providing opportunities for Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) and collaborative professional development, teachers can work together to analyze student data, create a more cohesive curriculum, and develop new teaching strategies. 


One way to achieve this is by scheduling common planning time for subject area teachers. Schools can also consider scheduling late starts and/or early releases or building in a flexible period for PLCs. However, asking teachers to participate outside regular school hours may impact staff culture. It is essential to consider whether additional compensation can be provided for their time. Despite the challenges, ongoing professional development is essential for teachers to provide the best possible learning experiences for their students. Schools that prioritize opportunities for PLCs and collaborative professional development demonstrate their commitment to continuous improvement and supporting their students and staff's learning and growth.


3) Involve Teachers in the Scheduling Process

Teachers' input on a master schedule can help address their needs and create flexible time schedules, which can lead to different learning opportunities for students. School leaders could gather input from teachers through scheduled staff meetings, surveys, or individual meetings. Principals can use this process to identify and support teacher leaders, involving teachers in using the master schedule to develop conditions that address their needs. 


Through guided discussions, teachers can focus on how they use their time and identify areas for change that benefit themselves and their students. This strategy empowers teachers and enables the teachers and principal to analyze the schedule and find time within it for their goals, such as additional teaching time, professional planning time, and electives that reinforce learning. The best part of this strategy is that it has little if any, impact on the budget!


4) Schedule for Equity

Schools spend a lot of time creating a schedule for the upcoming academic year. Unfortunately, there are often barriers in the process that can affect the quality of the learning experience for students. By shifting the focus to a student-centered approach, we can create a more enriching experience for all learners. For example, we can ensure that all students have access to the courses they need for a successful graduation pathway and a meaningful secondary learning experience. 


To do this, we should consider the course needs of different groups of students, like our English language learners, special education, and AP students, and schedule them accordingly based on their needs. This way, we can address systemic barriers that may prevent some students from accessing the courses they need. Additionally, by creating more diverse and equitable class groupings, we can ensure that the master schedule is best for all students and aligned with the community's values.


5) Implement a Regular Flex Period

Implementing a flex period into your master schedule is a great way to be mindful of giving teachers and students more time together for what matters. For teaching staff, a regular flex time is great for PLCs and collaborative PD, but also a time teachers can meet with students for reteaching, enriching, extending lessons, and so much more, that is valuable. 


Incorporating this 30-45 minute period in the school day for academic support or clubs is an opportunity that adds equity, by allowing the entire school population to participate in intervention, enrichment, clubs, and other extracurricular activities. Additionally, students can have a voice in their educational pathway and express their agency by exploring their interests. For more information about implementing Flex Periods, check out this guide to flex periods.


6) Use Data to Create Strategic Student Groups 

Grouping students based on their needs is a well-established strategy that can be implemented in various ways within a classroom or school. It is essential to use data to make instructional decisions and promote student growth. When done strategically, grouping students can significantly enhance learning outcomes. According to Marzano, cooperative learning leads to a 28 percentile gain compared to independent work. Therefore, it is crucial to consider implementing it.


We acknowledge that tracking can be a sensitive subject. When thinking about data-based grouping, a good mix of students from all levels can be reflected in class rosters and flexible intervention and enrichment groups. In middle and high schools, class rosters generated using student data promote optimal learning for all students by allowing both homogeneous and heterozygous groupings. Flexible groupings that change regularly are ideal for students because their needs may change throughout the school year. For instance, teachers may have a constant group and reconfigure others frequently based on goals. This approach enables teachers to respond promptly to the class's needs, ensuring that students receive the support they need. Additionally, it allows students to assume various roles in the learning process, avoiding stagnation.


7) Plan for Special Activity Days

When creating your school's master schedule, it's important to plan for your students’ needs strategically. Incorporating special days into the schedule can be a great way to ensure adequate time is given to the diverse needs within your building. These special days provide opportunities for students to engage in enrichment activities, explore different career paths, or participate in health fairs. 


Additionally, special flex days can be scheduled around administering standardized tests like the Pre-ACT or providing extra instructional time for homework, quizzes, tests, review instruction, intervention, or enrichment activities. By gathering input from various stakeholders, special days can be valuable additions to any school's schedule.


8) Plan for Virtual Learning Days

As technology, and our collective comfort using it in schools, has evolved, especially since the COVID-shut-downs, incorporating them into our scheduling plans has become a best practice, if not the norm. Virtual learning days can provide schools with greater flexibility. On these days, students are given online assignments by their teachers. Depending on the school, teachers may also be available for "office hours" to answer questions and facilitate discussion to ensure students can effectively complete their online assignments. These days can be used in emergencies such as inclement weather, to make up for weather-related absences, or to provide time for professional development. 


In addition, virtual learning days expose students to the learning platforms they may encounter in their post-secondary education and help them develop independent learning skills. Incorporating virtual learning days can also help schools save money on operational costs. Virtual days can be valuable additions to any school's master schedule and curriculum. As education continues to evolve in the digital age, virtual learning days can help prepare students for success in their future endeavors. Just don’t forget to create norms and expectations for both your staff and students regarding virtual learning days and ensure they align with your district’s policies around virtual learning.


 

In conclusion, creating a school schedule that meets the needs of all students and staff can be a daunting task. However, implementing innovative scheduling strategies can help school leaders maximize instructional time, provide opportunities for professional development, promote equity, and allow for flexibility to meet the needs of all students. With careful planning and collaboration, school schedules can be optimized to support student growth and development while also promoting teacher collaboration and empowerment. If you are looking for different kinds of bell schedules as you work on your master schedule, check out the several different sample bell schedules here.


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