Making a schedule is the trickiest part of the school year. I always compare it to sudoku but it’s honestly even more frustrating than that. Because at least with sudoku there is eventually some perfect way everything fits in (whether or not my mathematically challenged brain can ever get there…) but with making schedules we are searching for some holy grail perfect fit where every student is supervised, engaged, and busy at every moment and every staff member is actively utilized. In this holy grail schedule, lunch breaks don’t overlap, special classes perfectly fall into place with plenty of staff to manage all kids and grade levels, and clinician services fit puzzle pieces neatly into unoccupied time slots. Back to reality, friends. That crap ain’t never gonna happen. In the real world, all of your specials will be during your staff lunches, you will have to figure out how to get 3 different grade levels to 4 different inclusion classes during the same period with one aide, and you will have 4 students that need one on one help at all times of the day. And once you have some semblance of some type of rough schedule, your principal will change your prep times and the social worker will show up with her completely opposite schedule and try to pull your students during their recess time. Just writing this stresses me out.

Your schedule will never be perfect.

Do the best you can and make it work. Prioritize. If everyone can’t go to every single inclusion class because you only have one paraprofessional for 13 kids and unfortunately cloning isn’t an option – do what you have to do. It’s not ideal. It’s not what you’d envision for a perfect class. But many of us work in districts that are underfunded and understaffed. So we make due. And we do the best can.

Steps for Setting Up Your Classroom Schedule:

  1. Setup your excel schedule.
    • On one tab – put student names across the top. Write them in the order you would group them. On the left column put the times of the school day broken into 15 minute increments. On another tab – put staff member names across top and same time break down on left column.Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 8.56.54 AM
  2. Plug in the non-negotiables.
    • Write in the things you cannot change. These might be student lunch & recess, specials, staff lunches, inclusion classes, transition times, etc.Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 8.59.30 AM
  3. Group students.
    • Based on how many staff members you have and the ability levels of your students, organize your students into groups.Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 9.00.43 AM
  4. Reference your list of centers.
    • Check out that list of centers you made back during Step 1. Prioritize the centers. Pick which are the most important and determine which centers are best run by which staff members. Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 9.07.39 AM
  5. Look for large gaps of time where all of your students and staff will be in your room.
    • Set up rotations of centers during those times. Color code the centers so you can easily view how everyone is rotating. Make sure the order the students are moving around the centers make sense physically in the room. If you have more groups than centers that will have staff members – add in some independent centers or break time. I like to put independent centers in between staff run centers.Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 9.11.40 AM
    • Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 9.17.47 AM
  6. Fill in other times with remaining centers and activities.
    • Fill in additional time periods with the rest of your centers. If there are times with limited staff (ie. staff are at lunch), put independent activities or larger group activities then. Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 9.19.35 AM
  7. Test run!
    • Don’t print a million copies just yet. You have got to test it out first. Some things work awesome on paper and then in real life crash and burn. A few years ago, I made what I thought was the most perfect schedule ever and then we rolled it out, I realized I had completely forgotten about two students – FOR THE ENTIRE AFTERNOON. No wonder I had so many paraprofessionals to help and didn’t feel understaffed. Oops.


Yes that is a simplified version of the process above but it gives you the idea. A few tips for scheduling:

  • Limit whole group activities! Unless you have an extremely cohesive (skill level, cognition, social skill abilities) – avoid too many whole group activities. With the varied caseloads we all have, it usually is not appropriate for too many whole group activities. It will be harder to differentiate and individualize. Work on social skills and group behavior with similar peers in smaller groups so you can focus on being consistent with teaching the skill.
  • Set up multiple independent stations. You can have several centers where kids work independently. Many of us are short staffed so will need students to be working on their own more often than we’d like. Independent stations don’t necessary need to be work boxes. Things like drawing, puzzles, computers, games, etc can be great independent stations!
  • Try fitting in main academics in the morning. By the afternoon, both students and teachers are fried! Making sure the major academics are hit on in the morning ensures you getting your best effort in those important tasks!
  • Have two circle times or morning meetings – organized by level. My first few years, I really stressed about creating a morning meeting that could fit the needs of my extremely diverse group. It made way more sense to split them into multiple groups and we not only got so much more done but I had way less behavior issues!
Sasha Long
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