Although there are significant differences between K-5 or 6, 6-8 and 9-12 master schedules, there clearly are similarities or common threads. Although curriculum guidelines differ level to level, the purpose of each master schedule is constant – to serve as the delivery system. The bottom line in any schedule is student achievement, including remediation and enrichment. Schedules should be a joint effort of teachers, school-based administrators and central office leadership. The common or core factors are:
1. Responding to The Needs of Students
Frequently cited, responding to needs of students is not a cliché but a commitment to the uniqueness of all learners. This commitment is based on a comprehensive understanding of developmental tasks as well as group dynamics. Focus on college and career readiness does not begin at the high school. The foundation is based on student strengths, interests, and needs that are evident in elementary school, reinforced and extended at the middle level, and ultimately finalized during the high school experience.
2. Achieving the Mission/Vision Statement of The School and/or District
From an existentialist’s perspective, the mission/vision statement answers questions such as:
- What is the purpose of schooling?
- As a faculty, what is our role and function?
- How does a schedule facilitate achieving the mission/vision statement?
Mission/vision statements reflect the core values of the school daily. As such, the schedule becomes a means to an end, not the end itself.
3. Delivering the Curriculum
As a result of federal, state and local mandates, school curriculum varies from state to state as well as local community to local community. Schedules cannot be initiated without full knowledge of specific required and elective choices/options at each level. At the secondary level, these elective choices have a major impact on the distribution of staff and opportunities for collaboration to enhance the delivery system.
4. Teacher Collaboration
At all levels, teacher collaboration is an essential core feature. Opportunities are needed to discuss teaching strategies, curriculum delivery and effective use of classroom time.
In the elementary grades, teachers of a grade level benefit from common planning opportunities. Middle level teachers can be organized for interdisciplinary and/or subject area meetings. High school teachers share ideas by content areas, small learning communities and/or pathway programs.
Beyond the required core content areas, additional support can be provided to students in the form of remediation and/or enrichment experiences. A specific time is established at the elementary and middle level for teachers and resource personnel to group and re-group students based on need and/or interests. Ninth grade academies and small learning communities may organize a specific module for these interventions. In some cases, high schools devote a full period per day or week for remediation and/or enrichment.
6. Structural Options
Every master schedule has structure. K-5 or K-6 schools typically operate on a period or modular basis while secondary schools select from a menu of traditional, day 1/day 2, semester 1/semester 2, trimester or rotating-drop with a unit lunch. These are known as primary structures. Within these primary structures, inserts include interdisciplinary, single-subject, combination and exploratory teams at all levels as well as credit-recovery at the high school level.
Significant study should precede the selection of a primary structure and then any of the inserts. Any of the inserts can operate with any of the primary structures. The objective is to find the most efficient option(s) to enhance student achievement.
7. Small Learning Communities
Small learning communities are formed for the following reasons:
- Address student needs
- Integrate curriculum
- Personalize the teaching/learning experience
- Provide transition from elementary to middle to high school
- Extend the scope of college and career pathways
In K-5 or K-6 schools, grade level teams or multi-age prototypes exist. Common planning time is essential to the success of any small learning community.
Flexibility empowers teachers to best address unique learning needs of students. Flexible schedules allow teachers to manage time within their classroom or as a team, house, cohort, pathway, academy or a small learning community. Flexibility occurs when the same teachers teach the same students for the same periods of the school day. With flexibility, teachers can alter the sequence of classes, design and implement interdisciplinary units, or provide extended time for hands-on or project-based learning. Common planning time is essential.
9. Teachers’ Contract
Those responsible to construct the master schedule must be fully aware of the details of the teachers’ contract. Within those parameters, every effort must be made to create the best possible climate for teaching and learning. While collaboration time needs to exist in the master schedule, how that time is used must be mutually understood. The length of the school day impacts the number and length of instructional modules or periods.
10. Least Restrictive Environment
Initially introduced for special needs students, the notion of least restrictive environment can expand to all students. With intervention periods in the master schedule, students may receive IEP support, Tier II and Tier III assistance or ELL tutoring without missing an exploratory or elective experience. As middle and high schools increase the use of individualized scheduling, students can receive acceleration or remediation as needed, reflecting their unique profile.
11. Professional Development
When expanding an existing schedule or changing to a new primary option and/or inserts, professional development is essential. Training should precede the rollout with systematic follow-up. Focal points should include teaching/learning strategies in extended time periods, curriculum integration, use of available data, role and function of small learning communities or cohorts, and managing the intervention period.
- Schedules reflect the core values of the school.
- Schedules are a means to an end – student achievement.
- There are similarities and differences in master schedules from level to level; but the goal is the same.
- At all levels, schedules are based on student needs and interests. At the secondary level, schedules are based on student course requests which reflect the uniqueness of each individual student.
- Training is essential for those who build the schedule as well as those who implement the organizational plans.