Susan Huff

Susan Huff, EdD, has retired as principal of Spanish Oaks Elementary School in Utah after 34 years in public education. Previously, she was principal of Santaquin Elementary and Westside Elementary.

Strategic School Schedules Support Interventions

One common condition I often find in schools that are not improving is that they lack a strategic school schedule that provides time for intervention and extension. Schools that seriously embrace their fundamental purpose as a razor-sharp focus on student learning strategically align all structures, practices, and beliefs to that end. The old way of conducting school was that time was the constant and learning then became the variable. All students got the same amount of time to learn critical knowledge and skills; some students learned and some did not. Thus, learning became the variable.

In professional learning communities, the school’s fundamental purpose is student learning, which is the constant. The variables then become time and support. All students are expected to learn critical knowledge and skills at high levels. Some students will need more time and support to do this. Providing more time and support for struggling students requires new ways of thinking about school schedules. A school schedule that does not strategically provide time for intervention, while protecting time for Tier I instruction for all students, is a barrier to school improvement. Conversely, a strategic school schedule that has protected Tier I instructional blocks, along with blocks where students can receive intervention and extension without missing new instruction in critical skills, is a schedule that facilitates learning.

One solution for many secondary schools is to include  “flex time” in the school schedule. This is when students who are struggling to learn are directed to intervention while other students participate in extension. A solution for many elementary schools is to build a school schedule with staggered instructional and intervention blocks. Intervention blocks for each grade level are staggered throughout the day so that all school intervention resources, including special education and Title I, can be targeted to one grade level at a time. Teachers within each grade level agree to follow a common grade-level schedule.

I recently helped Central City Elementary start the process of building a strategic schedule using the following steps (the specifics are for Central City, but any school can substitute the specifics for their own school):

Calculate the amount of time available each day:

School starts at 8:00 a.m. and ends at 2:25 p.m. for 6 hrs. 25 min.

Identify and add together the time blocks that are mandated by the district or state:

30 min. for lunch

45 min. for specials (for example, art, music, PE, computers.)

30 min. for brain breaks (or two recesses; some schools only have one)

30 min. for the library or counselor

2 hrs. 15 min. total

Subtract the mandated blocks from the school day:

6 hrs. 25 min.

-2 hrs. 15 min.

4 hrs. 10 min. left for instruction

Identify and then subtract the amount of time for mathematics:

4 hrs. 10 min.

-1 hr. 30 min. for math (60 min. for math instruction/practice and 30 min. for intervention/extension)

2 hrs. 40 min. left

Identify and then subtract the amount of time for language arts:

2 hrs. 40 min.

-2 hrs. for language arts (which includes 30 minutes for reading intervention/extension)

40 min. left for science/social studies (plus 30 minutes from the mandated library or counselor block for any days students do not go to the library or a counselor)

Build the school master schedule with the above time blocks for each grade level.

Stagger each grade level’s 30-minute math intervention block and 30-minute reading intervention block at different times in the master schedule so that school resources can be targeted to help a specific grade.

Identifying and resolving barriers to school improvement is important work for PLCs. Part of this process is ensuring that the school has a strategic schedule that supports learning for all by having protected instructional blocks where students cannot be pulled out, along with designated intervention/extension blocks where struggling students are directed to receive the extra time and support they need to master critical knowledge and skills.


kylee Russell

I really enjoyed reading your post. I am currently working towards my masters degree in teaching and I am in the middle of an assignment that this topic ties in with. The school i student taught at did not have this strategic scheduling as you mentioned and I could see how it would be very beneficial to our students to have one. I do not like when children get pulled out of instructional class time to get their intervention help. They are just missing more and getting even more behind, it does not make sense to me. Thank you for your post. It has given me a lot to think about!
Kylee Russell

Posted on

Lauren McMillian

I believe that my school's fundamental purpose is student learning, yet I often feel that all students are not learning or given the opportunity to learn to the best of their ability. Recognizing that student learning is changing and that not all students need the same amount of time or support is vital in facilitating student learning. My school has a heavy focus on remediation and/or intervention but we often struggle with the scheduling process.
I just finished making the master schedule for my school last week. Seeing how you calculated the school hours based on level of importance was very beneficial. When my team was making our schedule, we started with their specials times and worked everything else around that (this was extremely difficult). The way you staggered the intervention blocks was also very helpful. Even though we "finished" the master schedule last week, there are always changes that need to be made. I think I will be able to adjust some of our schedule and implement a few of your thoughts in order to better utilize our time and resources. Thank you for your post!

Posted on

Kelsey Moser

The grade level in which I taught had 20 minutes of intervention time built in at the end of the school day. This was a great way for students to receive the additional help they needed without missing important instruction time.
Thank you for the advice you gave when determining when to have the intervention time during the day.

Posted on

Casey Spires

My school has a thirty-five minute instructional focus period reserved to administer interventions and acceleration. This is the second year of implementation and there are still some issues that need to be worked out.

The period is at the end of the school day. All staff is utilized. The major issues from this past school year were centered on who would administer the interventions/acceleration. Once groups were formed, special education teachers were utilized to provide the interventions for RTI. Students with disabilities were left in the general education setting with the acceleration groups. How have other schools supported special education students during instructional focus? Were they included into the intervention groups?

Also, behavior is a major concern at our school. Has anyone implemented behavior intervention during instructional focus? If so, how did it work?


Posted on

Mike Mattos

I appreciate the thoughtful comments to Susan's excellent blog post. As I have co-authored a few books on interventions and the PLC process, let me share a few suggestions:

Jeanne: Regarding your question about having interventions during first hour, it appears that your concern is that students are doing homework during this time. If the purpose of homework is for students to practice/apply what they have learned, with the goal of building long-term retention of information and fluency of skills, then would it matter if this practice is completed at home or in class? At our school, our Tier 2 intervention time was before lunch, and students that did not need targeted re-teaching often used this time to work on that night's homework. We not only did not mind, but encouraged this practice, as our goal was the practice. We had classified staff (not classroom teachers) supervise these students, freeing up our classroom teachers to support reteaching interventions and extensions. (Also, the reason why we put our intervention period later in the day was because all entire staff was available during this time, giving us the ability to have "all hands on deck".)

Jeanne and Robin: One point that caught my attention in your comments is you said that Title 1 students are pulled during your intervention time. My question is this: Why only Title 1 students? If there were no labels in education—regular ed, special ed, Title I, EL, gifted, accelerated—how would a school group students for interventions? Wouldn’t it be based on students who have the same needs? Students should be grouped by need, not be label. And how would a school determine which staff members should lead each of these interventions? Wouldn’t it be based on who has training and expertise in the specific content/subject/skill being retaught? This will help with some of the group size concerns you mentioned, Robin.

Finally, let me suggest a powerful resource. I just co-authored two anthologies on how to take time and effectively utilize interventions during the school day. The books are titled, "It's About Time", and there is both an elementary and secondary edition. Each chapter of the book focuses on a specific, real-life school and how it created and used it's intervention time for reteaching, remediation, and extension. This could be a useful resources as you plan and refine your intervention time.

Hope this helps and good luck!

Mike Mattos

Posted on

Jeanne Wehri

Love this method of "flex-time" and extension. My school just recently included an intervention time, this is the 1st period of the day. Title 1 students are pulled out during this period and are given the extra facilitation and support needed. Others use this time to ask any of the teachers questions that they may have. The thought of an extension is a great idea though! I may have to bring that up.
I did mention that the intervention is schedule for the beginning of the day, I am finding out that this may not be the best time. I notice students are doing their homework from the previous night and rushing to complete it in that time frame.
What do you think about this?

Posted on

Robin Bennett

Our district just recently including a 30 minute grade level intervention block to do interventions. We also then have Title 1 students pulled at two separate times. That means that we are doing interventions for 1 hour and 30 minutes each day. The time sounds great on paper, but we don't have the human resources to divide during the grade level intervention time, so teachers still have a full classroom of thirty students. Even when we try and plan a more targeted intervention or extension, when you have between 20 and 40 students, we have yet to see a truly effective intervention. Since our district figured out how to add time this year, hopefully they will find a way to add human resources so our groups can be smaller and give each student the intervention they really need.

Posted on

Tricia Land

I absolutely love this type of scheduling and I feel this would really benefit students that are working in an inclusion system and spend the majority of their school time in general education classes. I feel scheduling like this would really help students receive the little bit of extra time that they need to learn the information or concepts being taught.

Posted on

Pamela Turner

Strategic scheduling in schools seems to be such a 'novel' idea to so many because of the need to insure that all students are receiving instruction aligned to Common Core
standards. The pacing established in order to accomplish all that needs to be done is a 'hit-and-run' kind of education that continues to use student learning as the variable. We lose so many of our special education students, both those needing intervention and those needing extension, somewhere along the way because there isn't time in the schedule.
Being a member of the building leadership team and the Special Education dept. head, I am in the process of formulating suggestions for the 2015-2016 school year regarding scheduling . I am especially struggling with scheduling resource time for those students who need interventions. The calculations you posted are just what I needed to get started on building a suggested strategic schedule in order to reach all students.
Even if the schedule cannot be implemented school wide, I might at least be able to implement the schedule in the Special Education department in order to better serve those students who need interventions to move closer to grade level expectations.

Posted on