Most of us are a couple of months away from the daunting task of master schedule construction. Although this task is highly time-consuming, it can set the following year up for success. With this in mind, there are a few things I have learned over the years to help in schedule construction.

Take a Team Approach

First, I think back to my days as a head baseball coach. During that time, I had to use our players to give us the overall best team. This meant not everyone could pitch—not everyone had the same skill set, and sometimes players had to sacrifice for the good of the team. It was my job as coach to maximize all of the players to allow them to be most successful. For me, building a master schedule is very much like coaching a baseball team. Scheduling involves putting our staff in the assignments which will allow students to be most successful and maximize their individual ability.

Get Feedback

I start by asking teachers what they want to teach and why, and what they do not want to teach and why. (I

recommend using a Google forms survey because it is quick and all of the feedback is in one spot.) This gives teachers the ability to let you know what they are feeling. This is helpful because I try to give staff some control of what they teach. It is also helpful to understand the why behind their choices. However, I would highly recommend making it clear that you are gathering feedback and they are not simply picking their schedule.

Know Your Team

This may be the most important part. Just like a coach needs to understand their players’ strengths and weaknesses, your job as principal is to know the strengths and weaknesses of your team. That means you have to take the time to build relationships with your team. You cannot put teachers in the right spot if you do not know them. You also need to provide teachers with feedback on their strengths and weaknesses so they can grow and you can put them in assignments where they can be successful. Remember, not everyone has the same talents—which is fine.

No Free Passes

I have seen schedules where the most tenured teachers do not teach freshmen or students who are at risk. The thought is they have earned the right to teach upper-level classes and students. I am 100 percent against this idea. We need our best teachers working with our most challenging learners. This also allows veteran teachers to work collaboratively with less-experienced teachers in professional learning communities and teacher-based teams. Inversely, I want less-experienced staff to have the opportunity to move toward the upper-level classes. This can be motivating for staff and allows them to work with different student groups. In a perfect world, I would prefer to have all staff teach our most advanced students and our younger or more at-risk learners.

Build Your Team

Use building the schedule as an opportunity to build your team. If you are giving someone a new course, talk about why they are getting it. Provide professional learning to help them be more successful. Professional development should be targeted to their needs.

Play the Long Game

By being deliberate in scheduling, you can think multiple years ahead. I learned this the hard way when a teacher left unexpectedly and we could not offer the course because no one else had the background to teach it. To help with this issue, I try to always make sure I am building the capacity of our team. This prepares you for the unexpected or at the very least gives you options down the road.

Have Tough Conversations

I do not believe in using the master schedule to punish someone. Being punitive reflects weak leadership. However, there are times where someone will no longer be teaching a class or will be forced to teach a class based on student data, or because we have too few or too many sections or courses other than the ones teachers want to teach. After all, not every social studies teacher can teach U.S. history! When these decisions have to be made, I believe a face-to-face conversation is best. Even though the teacher may disagree with the decision, you had the courtesy to take the time to tell them why the decision is necessary and explain the rationale. This makes a difference in both the short and long term when it comes to your relationships with staff.

Final Thought

The master schedule is never perfect for everyone. If fact, the one constant in my world has been people telling me every year how it could have been better. Remember that there are always armchair quarterbacks—and that their suggestions often directly benefit them. Your job with the master schedule is not to make everyone happy. Your job is to make the schedule to maximize your team’s success and students’ outcomes. That is what a good coach does.

Mark Smithberger is principal at Berea-Midpark High School, which serves the communities of Berea, Brookpark, and Middleburg Heights outside of Cleveland, OH. He is the 2019 Ohio Principal of the Year. Follow him on Twitter (@m_smithberger).


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