Paul Farmer

Paul Farmer is a practitioner who has worked at the classroom, building, and central office levels. As principal of Joyce Kilmer Middle School, Paul was one of the first principals in Fairfax County, Virginia, to build a PLC.

PLC Master Schedules Provide Time for Collaboration and Interventions During the Day

The importance of teachers having time to collaborate during the contract day in order to build their professional practice and foster shared responsibility for student learning is critical for high-performing teams (Mourshed, Chijiole, & Barber, 2010). In addition, if teams are going to carry out their responsibilities, the schedule must also provide frequent (daily?) time for students to receive additional support during the instructional day. Numerous studies have reinforced the concept of collaboration and intervention time being built into the routine schedule. Educational leaders throughout the country have found ways to rework their master schedules in order to make this sacred time a reality. However, in many cases school leaders insist it just isn’t possible at their schools. Each month of the year plays a critical role in building a school’s master schedule. We intentionally spread responsibilities over several months instead of waiting until the few months before the new school year starts. Some school systems offer staff development focused solely on building master schedules, while other school systems say scheduling is important, but then leave it up to individual schools to determine priorities. The second big idea of a PLC is to build a collaborative culture, and we cannot claim to be a PLC unless we have timely, systematic, and directive interventions (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, & Many, 2010).

Many schedule builders inherit a schedule that has been tweaked from year to year. A schedule that worked well and served its purpose many years ago when teachers were teaching in isolation may be somewhat obsolete with today’s demands and expectations. My recommendation would be to start from the beginning—no more tweaking!

Before we could rebuild our schedule, we had to reach consensus on priorities:

1st priority: Our schedule will provide dedicated, daily collaboration time for teachers.

2nd priority: Our (bell) schedule will provide dedicated daily intervention and enrichment time.

3rd priority: Our schedule will accommodate access to as many courses as possible to meet student needs.

With these priorities in place, we chose different periods of the day when an entire department would not have teaching responsibilities. Then, we provided the department with a common planning period once a day. The intervention time was also built into the instructional day, but did not require reorganizing the periods of course offerings; the intervention time was created by implementing a new bell schedule that embedded 20 minutes into each day for interventions and enrichment. Next, we developed a plan of action with monthly timelines to address our master schedule. The following outline could be a good starting point as you figure out what works best for your scheduling needs.

November–December

  • Review resources, research, and visit schools with schedules that provide time for collaboration and interventions.
  • Clarify the expectations of staff and students during the collaboration and intervention times.
  • Solicit interested staff willing to work on a scheduling committee.

January

  • Identify the team that will be committed to developing the new schedule.
  • Identify all students expected to attend next year.
  • Give all students course request forms to be returned ASAP.
  • Identify which teachers plan to return the following year and their teaching preferences.

February

  • Tally student requests.
  • Tally the number of sections needed based on the request forms and projected enrollment.
  • List all teachers returning and their certifications. Confirm the certifications with the teachers (some may be working on additional endorsements).
  • Compare the certifications with the tallied requests, and identify potential staffing needs.

March

  • Identify where time for dedicated collaboration will be built into the day.
  • Identify when and how dedicated time for interventions will be provided.
  • Start placing the courses around the dedicated times.
  • Maintain seat availability for each period of the day. We maintained a 10% or more buffer for seating (1,000 students = 1,100 available seats for each period).
  • Maintain a balanced student load for each period of the same course. (For example, five sections of grade 9 English with the same number of open seats made it easier to accommodate new enrollees.)

April

  • Add sections where enrollment is too high.
  • Merge general education and special education students in team-taught classes.
  • Dissolve sections where there is not enough student enrollment.
  • Review decisions around collaboration periods, team time, intervention times, and other functions during the instructional day.
  • Confirm room availability, such as science and computer labs.
  • Verify that each student and teacher has a full schedule.

May

  • If you have scheduling software, enter the data and run the software frequently over the next few months to generate reports (such as a seat and room audits often referred to as conflict matrixes). Our goal was to hit at least a 95% conflict-free schedule before starting to hand schedule students.

June

  • Give students schedules without teacher names or periods listed, and request the schedule be returned with the student’s and parent’s signatures before the end of the year. Note on the schedule there will be no changes to the schedule unless there are extraordinary circumstances, such as getting extra credits in the summer or failing a course.
  • Give teachers their teaching assignments before the end of the year, but note on the assignment that there could be changes based on enrollment and demand.

July

  • Add new students to the schedule as they arrive.
  • Modify the master schedule as needed, while maintaining dedicated time for collaboration and interventions.
  • Notify students and parents of any changes to the schedule distributed in June.
  • Notify teachers of any changes in their assignments.

August

  • After summer school transcripts are received and schedule adjustments have been made, print student schedules and distribute when appropriate.
  • Create class lists, and give teachers access when appropriate.

September–October

  • Monitor and record any problems with the master schedule; some items will need immediate adjustments while others should be revisited the following year.
  • Celebrate! And get ready to do it again.

References

DuFour, R., DuFour, R., Eaker, R., & Many, T. (2010). Learning by doing: A handbook for professional learning communities at work™ (2nd ed.). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Mourshed, M., Chijioke, C., & Barber, M. (2010, November). How the world’s most improved school systems keep getting better. London: McKinsey & Company.

Comments

Kim Wallace

Is there any research you can point me to that says what the "ideal" frequency and length for collaboration time is? We are instituting one hour a week next year via early release/late start and I'd like to find some data that shows that is a good amount of time and frequency if anyone has it.

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Paul Farmer

Hi Christie O, thank you for your comment on 02-10-16.

Since you mentioned Preschool, I thought you may find suggestions from a colleague of mine helpful as well, if interested please see:
http://www.allthingsplc.info/blog/view/266/the-time-and-the-commitment-to-collaborate-at-the-elementary-level

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Christie O

Your blog has been very informative and beneficial to me. I will be sharing this information with my colleagues. I work in a preschool, because of our schedules we meet weekly. I believe having a PLC team that meets on a regular basis will be very beneficial for both the staff and students of my school.

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Kelly Grzywa

I enjoyed reading your post about scheduling PLC time into your schedule. I feel it is an important aspect of education and so many schools struggle to make this happen, mine included.
Our 5th grade team consists of 5 teachers and we have very little time to collaborate together. We are always "promised" the time at a staff meeting or during one of our PD days. It usually doesn't happen because we run over discussing or doing something else.
We try to get together after school but we all have kids with extra curricular activities so it make it even more difficult, which leads to more frustration.

Thank you for your ideas!

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Meghan Delaney

I appreciate your post and detailed description of your yearly plan as it relates to scheduling. My school is in what you might call the baby steps process of implementing a proper PLC model. We have intervention time, but it is weekly. We try to schedule common planning, but it is difficult. We have intervention times, but it is three times per week. I've always said we do PLC half-way. It's working somewhat, but I think there are definitely things we could do better. The only question I found myself asking was, "What do these interventions look like?" But in scrolling to ask my question, I found a link to the answer. Thank you again for this thoughtful blog post.

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Jessica Garza

The main concern at our campus is the lack of planning time as it often gets interrupted by instruction meetings, ARD's and at times substituting for other teachers. The course diversity in CTE is also barrier we face as most of us teach a different course; there are 32 different courses in department. I would love to see PLC initiatives incorporated in our campus to improve student success.

Your post is very informative. The tools and resources section has some promising ideas for stealing back time and allowing teacher collaboration to occur. I would appreciate any addition suggestions or guides available.

Thank you

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Jason Taylor

I absolutely love the idea of PLCs. However, I am faced with a dilema. I am the assistant principal at middle school campus. My principal is one who has a difficult time with altering the schedule in order to allow collaboration among the teachers. I actually am not sure why, and I am reluctant to ask for fear of retribution.
I guess my question is how I can offer the idea of scheduling time in to the master schedule to allow for teacher collaboration, but not in a way that usurps the authority of my principal.
I would greatly appreciate any advice on this matter.

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Stephanie Houtz

I also think it is important to build collaboration and planning time into the master schedule to promote effective teams. The school where I teach has found a way to make this happen. We have eliminated short days from our schedule. Now students attend school every day from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Teachers have an hour of collaboration/plan time four days of the week with one of the days set up for an organized Professional Learning Community for an hour and forty-five minutes. While the teachers are busy collaborating the students are in the computer lab participating in programs based on their reading and math needs. Staff assistants are in the labs monitoring students work and some are even able to pull groups for interventions.

When I first heard the idea about not having any short days I was hesitant. After thinking about all of the collaboration time our team would have and how much it would benefit our students I decided I was on board to give it a try.

Built in planning time, extra intervention time for students, and saying goodbye to short days has been worth it! In PLCs we are able to collaborate and focus on celebrations, data, and our next steps for students in reading. Other days of the week our team is able to meet and go through the same steps we would in a PLC for math, science, and ELL instruction. I feel like we have made a lot of growth as a team by having this built in collaboration time. We are now starting to see the growth in our students as well.

I think every school should seriously consider building collaboration and intervention time into their master schedule. I know there is more than one way to go about it. I think schools need to do what is best for them and start planning it now. One thing our school did to help implement the new master schedule was get team leaders involved a year in advance. Through monthly collaboration we were able to come up with a plan that works for us.



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Ginny Mahlke

HI Amy - Paul Farmer asked me to respond to your question about elementary schools because I am a retired K-6 principal. Many of the same suggestions he posed for secondary schools would work at the elementary level, but first there has to be a collective commitment to the importance of collaborative planning and a firm resolve to find a way to make it happen; not to accept excuses for the time not being "available". In our school we found time by having instructional assistants and/or non-classroom personnel start the days with kids once a week. Teachers reported at 8:00, the resource personnel met the kids in the rooms at 8:25 and did all the morning work. Classroom teachers came back to the room at 9:00. So, we were able to give them an uninterrupted hour of collaborative planning time. Even if you can only do this once every two weeks, it is a good start. We also brought subs in for an entire grade level twice a year. The grade level had specific tasks to accomplish (establishing priority standards, creating common assessments, etc) but they had a half day of time. I didn't even require that they met at school. They just had to submit products indicating the work they had done. Size of schools matter at the elementary level, with the availability of places to "send" the kids during the day. With a small school, I think the benefits of cross grade level collaboration are worth the effort to plan for that time. With a large school with more classes at a grade level than places to "send" kids, teams have broken into two groups and split the work - one team focuses on language arts; another on math and then they share the priority standards, the assessments, the intervention strategies, etc. I guess I would say to you that if the culture demands collaboration, then people will get creative with the structure to make sure that collaboration is a priority. Good luck!

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Amy Gates

Thank you for this article. My school struggles with schedule changes every year. It is nice to see a school being proactive about it, and not waiting until the last minute. I can see how this process works great for secondary schools, but I am wondering if you have any suggestions for elementary schools that would like to build in collaboration time for it's teachers. Any thoughts or suggestions?

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Brittany Wittler

I love the idea of being able to meet every day! However, my school currently is only able to meet once a week for an hour and a half, and it is usually scheduled outside the school day because schedules do not match up across grade level teams. We do have an intervention time scheduled daily for 30 minutes. I would love to be able to take some ideas back to my building about how to get PLC time scheduled everyday, but I am not sure that it would be possible. We do not have any specialist teachers (Art, Music, PE) scheduled to be at our school Mondays or Fridays, so the only time to meet on those days would be before or after school. I think that my school could make PLC time a priority when scheduling on the remaining 3 days a week. Thank you for the resources!

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LaKessa Cooks

Mr. Paul Farmer,

I found your blog to be both very interesting and beneficial to me. My school has created a similar schedule. We have time embedded into our schedule for intervention, enrichment, and PLC time for teachers. Our PLC time is 50 minutes, which is a substantial about of time for us to collaborate on student learning and other important issues.

Thank you for such an amazing post!

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Chad Jonart

Thank-you for the information on scheduling. Our school has completed training and have started implementing the model however, we are still struggling with schedules. Our leadership team can utilize this information as we are developing our schedules for next fall. Time and money are scarce resources in most districts today therefore, leadership teams must be creative and flexible in developing the most optimal schedule to accommodate intervention and planning time.

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Elisabeth Hunter

I really enjoyed reading your blog. My school just moved into a new building last year and we decided to make a new schedule. We were able to work in both an intervention time daily for each grade level as well as a Plc time one time a week for each grade level. Our Plc time is 30 minutes which isn't very long but is better then nothing. I like the idea of looking at the schedule each month because our scheduling crew only looks at it in May and then forgets the problems they saw in the beginning of the year. Thank you so much for sharing!

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Paul Farmer

Hi Greg,
It sounds like your administration is making some progress, once the time is in place for interventions and collaboration the next hurdle will likely be what the teachers and students are going to do with the time that would be different from what they could do without the common time. That was the more difficult for us than rebuilding our master schedule and bell schedule.
In response to your question "Will the benefits of PLC and RTI periods outweigh the negatives of reducing student options?" Of course, I can't say that it will do for your school there is so much more to PLC than changing schedules. Our school had significant gains in student achievement, staff moral, and parent appreciation.
We did the best we could with having teachers teach in one department. Then we allocated periods of the day that department would not be assigned any teaching responsibilities. No loss in "seat-time" and no additional staffing. Depending on the size of your school this may not be possible. I would like to suggest taking a look at www.allthingsplc.info, under the evidence tab to see if you find schools similar to yours and inquire about their schedule, contact information is provided on that site. If you would like to contact me directly feel free to send me a PM through Twitter @pfarmersr.
Thank you for reading the blog and for the question,
Paul Farmer

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Greg Hastings

As a former employee of Fairfax County Public Schools, I can attest to the structure of their PLC's and how beneficial they are for students and teachers. I have since moved on in my career, but have tried to share with administrators in my current district the importance of team collaboration that is driven to analyze student data from common formative assessments. Because I am now in a district that, like many districts across the nation, has basically been cut to a bare bones staffing level, it is increasingly more difficult to justify PLC time for groups of teachers and RTI/Enrichment periods for students. Multiple teachers teach more than one grade level, and are part of more than one team or department. The current administration at my school had a very difficult, time consuming, and animosity inducing task of listening to the requests of teachers. With much hesitation, they finally gave in and we are now currently scheduled to begin the PLC time along with student intervention and enrichment time. The downfall to this was that something had to give. A few of our advanced placement courses and elective classes had to be eliminated. Will the benefits of PLC and RTI periods outweigh the negatives of reducing student options?

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Paul Farmer

More Staff?
We created time for common planning and a different time of day for intervention without increasing class size and without adding positions.

Example Schedules?
Take a tour of the http://www.allthingsplc.info/evidence/ site to find many examples, so far, I have not found a single perfect model for all schools since all schools are different. Our schedule worked very well and the different examples on this website seem to work very well too. I would like to suggest your scheduling time review as many schedules as possible and then make collaborative decision of what would work best at their school. Please feel free to contact me directly on Twitter @pfarmersr, send me your email address and I will send you a screen shot of our schedule.

Guidelines?
YES! several, and they were made as a result of hours of collaboration that lead to commitments to the guidelines. I can send you some of those as well.

Cross Curriculum?
YES! Schools are different but my school that had interdisciplinary teams also had common time to meet with their interdisciplinary team, point of clarification....that team meeting was very different than their primary content team collaboration time, which was very different from their departmental collaboration time, etc... We did not call our teams, PLC teams, each team had a different function and those functions were very specific. We were a PLC, and in out PLC we were on one or more teams.
I hope you find this to be helpful, thank you for reading my blog and for the questions,
Paul Farmer

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D'Aulan Bussman

Does incorporating PLC time along with intervention time cause you to have to hire more instructors vs. setting a schedule without PLC and intervention time? Would it be possible to see a schedule? Could you provide a sample schedule?

Do you have guidelines for PLC time? Do you have cross curriculum PLC meetings?

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