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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.