October 3, 2023


It's Your Education

How I Built My Elementary School’s Master Schedule

My philosophy is that how you spend your time and resources reveals what your priorities are. This is my third year of creating a master schedule for Bladen Lakes Primary School. My efforts each year follow the process outlined in the book Elementary School Scheduling: Enhancing Instruction for Student Achievement by Robert Lynn Canady and Michael D. Rettig. This year, I am explicitly charting out the steps I took in making the schedule. My faculty and I at the school participate in shared leadership. The foundation of the schedule is laid out through multiple ongoing conversations with teachers, parents, and students.

I want my teachers to be able to retrace my steps and perhaps provide alternative schedules or make adjustments that I had not considered. All alternatives to the master schedule should be presented to the grade level committee using the same methodology and should be based on deliberate strategy. “I don’t want to teach after lunch” is an example of a schedule request that is not well thought out. An example of a schedule request that is well thought out might be, “If teacher A and teacher B trade media center times on Tuesdays, the second grade could have additional common planning time.”

It should also be noted that my school follows a time allocation chart in which each subject is assigned a specific number of minutes per week by grade level. Lunch, recess, special classes, computer lab time, math, reading, social studies, science, physical education, writing, and rest time are all charted down to the minute.

My school has about 350 students, until the spring of each year when we get an additional 50 students who are the children of migrant workers in the local blueberry fields. I consider the school to be medium-size. One of the complications we face each year is that we share our music, physical education, and art teachers with three other elementary schools. Different teachers are at the school on different days. This makes a cookie-cutter daily schedule simply impossible.

I have listed below the steps I followed in creating the master schedule:

1. I charted out what teachers are on campus at what times. I created 30 minute slots of time (our lowest unit of time) for the entire school week.

2. I assigned lunch to special teachers.

3. I assigned open media/Accelerated Reader (AR) time each day, per an ongoing discussion with my media center coordinator Mrs. Brigman regarding our AR upgrade.

4. I scheduled grade level planning and common time. Each grade level will have at least one common planning time on Wednesdays for one hour.

5. I scheduled all special classes except computer lab and media time. I made every attempt possible to ensure that

  • a. Specials for each grade level were at the same time each day
  • b. Homerooms didn’t have two specials on the same day
  • c. The morning block of instruction was protected, with 3rd and 4th grades as a priority
  • d. Kindergarten didn’t have 8-9 block of specials because of breakfast

6. I scheduled library time depending on when each homeroom didn’t already have a special class.

7. I scheduled lunches. I kept grade levels together when possible.

8. I scheduled computer lab time and recess time. Classes have recess every day except the days that they meet with the physical education (PE) teacher.

9. I created a new schedule grid for each day for each grade level. I pencil in the specials, lunches, and lab times that I’ve already scheduled.

10. Referring back to the time allocation chart, the academic subjects were scheduled for each teacher. I always give the individual teacher the opportunity to make changes to how the time is chunked, provided that the totally weekly allocation stays the same.

This year, I will present the schedule and these steps to the grade level chairs in a summer meeting. I will talk to them about alternatives and go over how I came to this schedule. Grade level chairs will then have the opportunity to ask questions and then take the schedule home with them for careful consideration. I will then present the master schedule to the faculty in an email. There will still be several weeks before school begins, so everyone will have the opportunity to provide input.

I have several expectations for the schedule during the school year. First, the homeroom’s schedule should be posted in the classroom. Some teachers like to create a different format than the grade level grid that I use. This is fine, as long as I have a current copy of the grade level schedule in grid format. Secondly, the schedule should be followed with near 100% accuracy. Permanent adjustments must be approved and I must always have an accurate and up-to-date copy of the schedule in the grade-level grid format. Short-term changes must also be approved. An example is swapping the recess and math blocks because the chances of rain in the afternoon. The teacher can tell me this in passing or-even better-send me an email prior to the swap.