Schedules: love them or hate them, they are the backbone of a special education classroom, especially one that serves students on the autism spectrum. My husband claims that I have become more rigid over time as my love for schedules has grown. On vacation, I get a little nuts if there is not a schedule for the day. Even as much as I love schedules, I know that they can be a major headache for teachers and service providers as we get the school year going.
Start with the Master Schedule
I’ve now taught elementary, middle school, and high school. I gotta tell y’all: scheduling at a high school is the most challenging. When making OUR master schedule we have to constantly take into account THE Master Schedule. We don’t have recess to consider, but we do have lunch periods, Athletics, PE, Adapted PE, art, choir, band, orchestra, theatre, dance, robotics, film, yearbook, etc, etc, etc…..
Dependent on student needs and student preferences, each individual student’s schedule can get incredibly tricky. Having so many incredible offerings for students is a great problem to have, but it is still a challenge. We start weeks ahead and plan a wonderful, cohesive schedule for us and then we work through all of the possible inclusion opportunities. Offering the least restrictive environment through electives, athletics, and modified/alternate classrooms is our top priority for students, so even though it takes jumping through hoops, it is worth it for our students in the end.
Each classroom’s schedule rotations can and should look different. Some high school teachers could look at their schedule simply by period, our school has 8 periods in a day. While some elementary or middle school teachers could similarly break their schedule down by hour.
My students have never been those that could be successful with a schedule that features hour rotations. I have frequently broken down my schedule by 20 minute rotations. Including a 2-5 minute transition to the next rotation, 20 minutes has often been really appropriate for my students. When considering a 1:1 teacher rotation as part of that schedule, I can instruct, assess, and take data on a task during a 20 minute rotation.
When I taught very energetic elementary students, I had no choice but to break down the day in 15 minute rotations. I planned out the hours by starting with 15 minutes of gross motor activity to address sensory needs, then we had 15 minutes of group instruction, which was followed by 15 minutes of guided practice in a small group, and then we had 15 minutes of independent practice. We did that all day y’all. It was exhausting, but we kept those kiddos engaged and learning. You do what you have to do for your students.
Color Coding is a Must
If you’ve never sat down with a complex, colorful Excel spreadsheet, are you even a Sped teacher? I can’t imagine starting my year in any other way. I think that color coding is absolutely essential, but it is also completely individualized for each classroom’s needs. Currently, we have three teachers sharing a larger group of students. We have color coded our schedule to reflect which student is with which teacher or if they are in an elective. This is helpful when we need to glance at the schedule to see who should be where after transitions.
During most other periods of my teaching career, I have color coded based on the centers or stations in my class. This was similarly helpful to be able to glance at the schedule and assess where everyone should be within the classroom during each rotation.
Other ways that you could color code could be based on independence level, TA coverage, or campus location. Color code in whatever way helps you to serve students more efficiently.
Work through Coverage
After you’ve worked through the campus schedule, decided on length of rotations, and color coded your spreadsheet, you need to work through how your staff will meet coverage ratios recommended (read required) in the student’s IEP paperwork. This will usually result in an additional spreadsheet. I like to print the spreadsheet with everyone’s coverage on it so staff can know who they should be coordinating with for the next rotation.
This spreadsheet will probably get revised over and over again. You will find some issues immediately and some will reveal themselves over time. For my setting, I have revised and reprinted the coverage schedule every day so far this year. It is worth the work and revisions to come to a well laid out coverage schedule.
Get a Second Opinion
An incredibly important last step to creating a great schedule is to have a second set of eyes take a look at it. I’ll admit to being almost cross eyed after staring at a schedule spreadsheet for hours. Sometimes there are obvious flaws that we just can’t see because we have been looking at it for too long. Ask another teacher or staff member to take a look at it and work through any issues that are found as a result.
I’m wishing all of you teachers and service providers out there good luck on creating a great schedule for this year and the flexibility to change it when needed! If you’d like to connect with my and my classroom this year, follow me on Instagram @ausometeaching.