The following steps are offered to begin to think about middle school schedules for the 2021-2022 school year that can operate on a full in-person, virtual, or hybrid platform. Additionally, the platform should be able to pivot to any of these options if the need exists. In any event, a schedule is needed for teachers and students to achieve standards and instructional objectives.
STEP 1 – Connect with the mission/vision statement of the school or district
- Review wording of current statement; update in light of pandemic and economic conditions.
- Be certain the mission/vision statement reflects the physical, intellectual, social-emotional and moral needs of students, teachers, and parents.
- Use as a standard when making scheduling decisions and recommendations for the teaching/learning process in any of the platforms.
STEP 2 – Include plans for the three tiers of RtI/MTSS
- Tier I is the responsibility of every classroom teacher and enhanced when schedules feature extended time periods.
- Tier II can occur in Flex/Advisory/Intervention (FAI) periods. FAI should be carefully planned by the interdisciplinary team in conjunction with Special Education and ELL staff. Fluidity and flexibility guide how teachers address unique needs of a diverse population.
- Although Tier III may occur in the exploratory portion of the student’s schedule, every effort should be made to address IEP requirements via co-teaching or replacement classes as well as during the FAI period. Those who design master schedules should be mindful of providing the least restrictive environment for all students.
STEP 3: Choose a primary framework or basic organizational plan for the school
- The teachers’ contract and staffing allocation may impact the number of periods in the day.
- Traditional schedules feature seven, eight or nine periods per day, one of which is a lunch period. Classes are typically 40-45 minutes in length.
- Day 1/day 2 schedules are based on eight instructional periods. By design, four classes meet on the first day at 80-90 minutes each while the other four classes meet on day 2 at 80-90 minutes each. Lunch is a module of time within periods 3 and 7.
- In the day 1/day2 framework, there are fewer transitions in the hallways, a key issue in Health Department guidelines.
STEP 4: Identify potential inserts for the primary framework
- Inserts operate in either primary framework.
- Inserts include double English/language arts, double mathematics as well as interdisciplinary, single-subject, combination and exploratory teams.
- Inserts may be a key factor in establishing cohort groups to meet Health Department guidelines.
- Inserts set the stage for flexibility, curriculum integration, focus on standards or competencies, and a sense of community.
STEP 5: Create bell/lunch schedules
- Primary framework impacts bell/lunch schedules.
- Lunch and passing times can vary in length.
- Length of FAI can vary.
- Teachers’ contract may determine length of lunch period.
- Modular lunch should be considered to maximize instructional minutes.
STEP 6: Formulate program of studies
- Core portion typically includes English/language arts, social studies, mathematics, and science. In some schools, world language is included.
- Maximum flexibility for the core portion of the schedule is achieved when the number of subjects as well as the number of teaching sections equal the number of periods a professional may teach.
- In many schools 60-75% of the school day might be devoted to the core portion of the schedule.
- Physical education, art, health, band, chorus, orchestra, general music, STEM and family/consumer science typically comprise the exploratory segment. If not in the core portion, world language is included in the exploratory section.
- When FTEs are reduced in a school, every effort must be made to preserve the integrity of the exploratory program.
STEP 7: Project enrollment
- Based on expectations, the number of sections and average size of each class can be anticipated.
- A greater number of teaching sections may be needed due to a cap on class size. The total FTE allocated to a school could result in an increase of core teachers with some reduction in exploratory positions.
- The number of periods in the day may be impacted by projected enrollment figures, primary framework and inserts, FTEs and the teachers’ contract.
STEP 8: Decide team composition
- Team composition is directly related to the number of sections at a grade level.
- Core teams range from two to six teacher teams, in addition to Special Education and ELL as designated.
- Transition from elementary to middle school as well as middle school to high school may impact team compositions.
- Exploratory teachers can be organized as teams with planning times to set the stage for flexibility and curriculum integration.
- Special Education and ELL students should be included in core and exploratory team calculations.
STEP 9: Design course selection/registration worksheet
- Selections can be made online.
- Where appropriate, course requests should indicate levels of English/language arts, mathematics, world language, Special Education or ELL.
- Student data base consolidates course requests and becomes a prerequisite to schedule construction and assignment of students to sections.
STEP 10: Develop a blueprint
- Blueprint previews schedule construction; number of periods in the school day must be affirmed.
- Segments of the blueprint are identified as core, exploratory, FAI and lunch.
- Consecutive core periods set the stage for flexibility, extended time instruction, and minimizing student movement throughout the building.
- Opportunities for common planning time for core teachers occur when students are in exploratory courses. Conversely, exploratory teams meet during a period when all students are in core classes.
STEP 11: Assemble grid of teachers’ assignments
- Evolves from blueprint; prerequisite for encoding into software package.
- Teachers are listed in interdisciplinary teams (6A, 6B, 7A, 7B, 8A, 8B) including Special Education and ELL staff.
- On the grid, exploratory team follows core cohorts; exploratory teachers are grouped by department.
- Specific assignment of each teacher is indicated.
STEP 12: Utilize school/district software package to assign schedule to each student
- Database houses course requests for each student.
- Encoding of teacher assignments reflects core team designation, course number and section number.
- Software program generates individualized student schedules.
- Several iterations or runs of the master schedule may be needed to balance class size and schedule the entire student body.
STEP 13: Orchestrate on-going professional development
- Professional development is essential to maximize schedule implementation.
- A schedule is a means to an end – to enhance the teaching/learning process.
- Training of teachers should focus on needs of early adolescent students.
- Agenda should include the role and function of teams, teaching strategies for virtual, hybrid and full in-person instruction as well as implementing/sustaining flex/advisory intervention periods.
Master schedules for the 2021-2022 school year must be based on projected FTE. The school year may begin with a virtual, hybrid, or full in-person paradigm that could pivot during the school year. The ultimate goal is to create a master schedule and reflects the mission/vision of the school or district that enhances the teaching-learning process.