Master Schedule: A Climate and Culture Initiative

For school leaders, January brings the unofficial start to master schedule season. A master schedule includes decisions about course offerings, teacher plan periods, teacher course recommendations, utilization of Full-Time Equivalency (FTE), instructional interventions, and even lunch times. January is often the time of year that principals and assistant principals begin to formulate a plan to best utilize their resources to meet student needs through an efficient and effective master schedule.

This process always reminds me of a famous quote from Joe Biden: “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.” The same is true for a school’s master schedule—it sends a direct message about what school leaders value.

Building a master schedule should be transparent, collaborative, and tethered by a shared vision of teaching and learning. This process can become a climate and culture initiative for school leaders to build and maintain this shared vision with their teachers, counselors, and support staff. It is important that school leaders give careful thought about how to create a process that accomplishes this goal.

Creating Transparency

The key to creating transparency around the decisions involved in the master schedule process is developing a set of criteria questions that you will use to determine if a specific decision is the “best” decision. By being clear with your criteria for decision-making, you build in transparency around your values as a leader.

Example criteria questions:

  • Is it best for supporting learning for all students?
  • Is it best for the curricular scope and sequence?
  • Is it best for the professional requirements of teachers?

Creating these questions to “filter” decisions creates a way for you to evaluate your decisions while also creating clarity around what matters when building a master schedule.

Structures for Collaboration

Any school leader will probably tell you that collaboration is the key to effective school leadership, and this thinking should extend to the master schedule process as well. Creating transparency is the foundation for true collaboration. While the personnel aspect of the conversation may create some challenges to collaboration, having structures in place that give voice to teachers empower them to take on new challenges. In addition, collaboration creates opportunities to weigh the outcomes of different decisions, which helps promote a truly collaborative approach.

Some questions to consider as you build collaborative structures and systems:

  • How are teachers and counselors included in decisions around course offerings?
  • How are teachers and counselors included in decisions around section numbers and teacher assignments?
  • What communication strategies do you employ to share information about these decisions? (Email? In person? Shared spreadsheets?)
  • Is it best for all teachers to be included in the discussions or should a department chair/team leader structure be utilized? If yes, then how will decisions be communicated to the entire staff?
  • Do teachers and counselors feel comfortable asking questions or following up with you about decisions? What processes are in place to ensure this dialogue?

Tethering master schedule to a shared vision

When teachers and counselors fully understand the decisions being made and are included in those decisions, then the real work of talking about the values that drive those decisions can begin. For example, does the shared vision of teaching and learning include instructional teams to best support ninth-grade students? Then the collaboration about the master schedule should definitely include common plan times and team-teaching opportunities. Does the shared vision of teaching and learning include innovation through STEM programming? Then the master schedule should definitely include a “STEM Hour” where every teacher contributes to teaching inquiry and innovation. The list could go on and on, but the key component is that the master schedule is seen as an opportunity for school leaders to speak their vision and build a shared understanding of that vision.

Building a master schedule can become one of the most important climate and culture initiatives in a building. It is imperative that school leaders recognize the importance of the process in establishing and maintaining a shared vision for teaching and learning.

If someone looked at your school’s master schedule, what would it say about your values as a leader and the shared vision for teaching and learning in your school?

Andrea Smith is Principal of Lyons Middle Senior High School in St. Vrain Valley Schools in Lyons, CO. She is the 2018 Colorado Assistant Principal of the Year. Follow her on Twitter @SmithSVVSD.

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