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‘Tis The Season (For Scheduling!)

Sometimes I have a hard time remembering how we all worked together before the invention of Google’s G-Suite, and the many tools that make collaborating with others and organizing information such a breeze!  But I must admit that I was always a bit old-fashioned when it came to scheduling.  I usually started out with some sharpened pencils, new erasers, and blank paper spreadsheets. Add to that some new music, steaming mugs of hot chocolate, and a “Do Not Disturb Unless You’re Bleeding” sign on the office door, and I was all set for the start of the most wonderful time of the year - scheduling season!  While I really enjoy puzzles and games like Tetris, 24, and sudoku, nothing compares to the challenge and reward of creating a master schedule that maximizes educational time AND makes people happy!

Truth be told, my scheduling process for the following year started on the first day of school in August.   I would jot down notes about what was working in the current master schedule, and what things needed to change the following year based on input from teachers, students, and parents.  By the time January rolled around, I knew the work that needed to be done to make next year's schedule even better.  While our initial "big picture" draft was sketched out with paper and pencil, we quickly moved into the next phase of scheduling - creating the master schedule in our student information system. Through the years I've heard many sentimental stories about scheduling in the "good old days" with post-it notes and giant whiteboards.  That is definitely NOT an idea I would promote!  The use of new educational technologies for scheduling has greatly improved the process, and through the use of our student information system, we were able to create a scheduling process that was streamlined, efficient, and collaborative.

When I first started scheduling in January, I got some strange looks from my fellow administrators.  Everyone knows that summer is the time you schedule, right? Wrong.  Why would you want to wait until the summer to realize you’ll need another section of music class, which means that you might also need another music teacher, and possibly even another set of music teacher materials?  Why would you want your teachers to leave at the end of the school year with an uncertain feeling about what they’ll be returning to in August?

Although it seemed like I was doing something new, I now know that some of the most innovative ideas in education are grounded in research that’s stood the test of time.  In their book, School Leadership That Works, Marzano, Waters, and McNulty (2005) identified creating order as one of the 21 essential responsibilities of school leaders. Suppovitz (2002) said, “Groups need structures that provide them with the leadership, time, resources, and incentives to engage in instructional work” (p.1618). And Lashway (2001) contends, “Staffing, scheduling, and other seemingly mundane issues can have a major impact on the school’s capacity to meet new standards” (p.1).  Like many new and growing schools, we experienced a lot of change from one year to the next, and this made it challenging to create order.  Often the procedures and routines that worked for one year wouldn’t work the next.  I found that one of the best ways to lead through constant change, and create order, was to plan ahead - way ahead!  

There are many benefits to getting next year’s schedule completed by spring.  One such advantage is the opportunity it creates to communicate with teachers about their ideas for the following school year.  Before formally beginning the scheduling process I would talk with teachers about their ideas for new instructional programs, curriculum revisions, and their individual preferences for classes they wanted to teach. This simple step of including the teachers in the process helped to get “buy-in” for the following year’s changes and usually resulted in teachers returning to school the following year to be a part of the exciting improvements we had planned.  Scheduling early for the next year also helped to ensure that ideas for improvement, like adding student remediation and enrichment time into the schedule or providing teachers with common prep periods, would work out in the master schedule.  And “everything working out” helps new leaders gain (and maintain) credibility with staff, students, and parents.

Wondering how you’ll find the time to start doing next year’s work now when you’re bogged down with this year’s teacher observations and daily management issues?  Plan for it!  Talk to your staff about why you’ll be posting that “Do Not Disturb Unless You’re Bleeding” sign on your door.  Book half day blocks for scheduling on your schedule. Find ways to free up key staff members who need to be involved in the process by arranging for internal coverage, or booking a substitute ahead of time.  And last but not least - make good use of snow days!  Set the stage for your own enjoyable scheduling sessions by sharpening some pencils (or firing up your laptop), putting some good music on (or keeping it quiet), pouring yourself a mug of hot chocolate (or coffee, tea, water, etc.), and start working on the best puzzle you’ll ever find - next year’s schedule! 

References

Lashaway, L. (2001). Leadership for accountability. Research Roundup, 17(3), 1-14. Eugene, OR: Clearinghouse on Education Policy and Management. 

Marzano, R.J., Waters, T., & McNulty, B.A. (2005). School Leadership That Works. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development

Suppovitz, J.A. (2002). Developing communities of instructional practice. Teachers College Record, 104(8), 1591-1626