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Three Steps to a Strategic Schedule

Putting your school priorities into action to create effective school schedules


Our Schools Start Here series of guides dives into the resource side of ESSER strategy and planning, including concrete examples of staffing and scheduling models. 



We recommend a three-step process to create school schedules that removes barriers and provides tools that school teams can use to make the most of their time and build a strategic schedule.

Yellow checked background with the words "Step one: reflect and set priorities."

A school’s master schedule defines which teachers meet with which students, for how long, and about what topics. The priorities it represents, whether explicit or implicit, are a critical aspect of defining how learning takes place in the school. Setting explicit priorities, and expressing their relative importance, is therefore one of the most critical steps of developing a strategic schedule. School teams can use their reflection on this checklist as the foundation for bringing their instructional vision to life within the concrete, daily experiences of teachers and students.

Dig deeper with our Strategic Scheduling Checklist. We based the checklist on six major goals we’ve seen strategic schedules accomplish, such as optimizing the student experience, maximizing instructional time, and supporting teachers.



Green checked background with the words "Step two: explore schedule options, trade-offs, and staffing implications."

School teams can use a myriad tactical schedule solutions to meet their priorities. This step is about identifying options, considering trade-offs, understanding staffing implications, and finally selecting options that are the best fit. Understanding the staffing implications of each option and the subsequent potential cost are critical aspects of the review process.After reviewing schedule options, school teams can decide what schedule components they want and can feasibly incorporate into their schedules. When schools have decided on their schedule, they can also draft teacher assignments based on the courses and sections needed with the staffing tool, a particularly helpful feature for secondary school teams. Learn more about various options in school scheduling and their trade-offs in our case study Reimagining the School Day.

Dig deeper with our staffing tool to determine the total number and types of teachers needed for various options based on the number of periods, course offerings, and projected enrollment.


Light blue checked background with the words "Step three: design the schedule."

Once school teams reflect on their priorities, consider their options, and select the best schedule components, they can create a master schedule. School teams can begin putting the pieces together with our Elementary and Secondary School Master Scheduling Tools. Beginning with an instructional vision and priorities, this excel tool allows school teams to move through a series of steps on their way to creating a bell schedule, master schedule, teacher assignments, and student assignments that meet school priorities with the available resources. 

Design (Elementary)  Design (Secondary)

One example of building collaborative planning time into the schedule

A high school principal and their design team in a large urban district we recently worked with reflected on their schedule, collected additional staff input, and identified a fewthese scheduling priorities for the upcoming year:

  1.   More collaborative planning time for teachers. Teaching teams only had 50 minutes of planning time each week.
  2.   Fewer daily courses. The team felt like students were struggling with the workload associated with seven daily courses.
  3.   Additional time in certain core subjects. Most students were struggling in ELA and math, so the team felt students would benefit from more time in these subjects relative to others. At the same time, they also wanted to ensure students could participate in the engaging enrichment classes the school had to offer.

After reviewing several options, the team narrowed their options to one. A block schedule where students would take math and ELA each day and alternate science, social studies, and electives on an A/B schedule. This solution allowed teachers to have almost 90 minutes each week to plan with each other, it reduced the students’ daily course load from seven classes to four, and it allowed students to spend 7,000 more minutes in a subject in which they were struggling over the course of the year.

At the same time, because the new schedule operated on a base of eight periods over two days versus the six daily periods in the current schedule, students could still take enrichment courses. The team recognized that this schedule would be more expensive because it increased teacher planning time, so it converted several non-instructional positions into teaching positions to lessen the impact. Moreover, they also offered professional development over the summer and throughout the year to support teachers in effectively teaching and engaging students for 90-minute blocks.

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We welcome the opportunity to partner with your district to better align resources (people, time, and money) to achieve equity and excellence in your schools.

Additional Resources

School Check 
 self-assessment that school teams can use to determine how well their resource use stacks up against the three principles excellent teaching for all students, personalized learning and supporting, and cost effectiveness through creative solutions

Reimagining the School Day 
The Center for American Progress paper that shows various schedule solutions that bring school design elements to life

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