7 Steps Principals Can Take to Deliver on an Awesome Master Schedule

(Hint: Start Now!)

7 Steps Principals Can Take to Deliver on an Awesome Master Schedule

So much of a site administrator’s work is responding to what’s happening right in front of them right now. Sometimes long-term and strategic thinking and planning the school master schedule can seem like something for the back burner. However, waiting too long to get started is a mistake. Here are the top seven things all school leaders need to know and do when it comes to delivering on your school master schedule:

1. Start now.

The best time to begin discussing next year’s master schedule is as early as January. This gives you a nice stretch of time to hold discussions with community stakeholders about possible changes for the following year. I like to start scheduling discussions by asking, “What’s working for our students? What’s not?” Teams of teachers write their individual ideas on sticky notes, and we group these together to determine larger themes.

2. Know your schedule’s value.

Time is money. How students and staff spend their days in your building is critical in your work as an instructional leader. The design, maintenance, and management of your master schedule needs to fall squarely on your shoulders. I’ve seen too many principals place scheduling responsibility in the hands of a school counselor, a secretary, or even the PTA president. It’s okay to share the workload. It’s not okay to absolve yourself of the strategic thinking and decision making in your schedule’s design.

3. Communicate that student needs come first.

What does it look like to place adult preference second to student needs? If you’re trying to squeeze in more time for daily acceleration and intervention, are teachers willing to trim down lunch? Are your most qualified, superstar veterans willing to let go of an honors literature section and take on reading intervention? Ask teachers what they want to do to make room for kids’ needs. You might find their input to be valuable and team-building.

4. Know when to be transparent.

Ensure decision making around scheduling is transparent to everyone affected. Start by issuing a timeline of key conversations. Make clear what you plan on doing with input gathered and how decisions will get made. Is the whole process in the hands of your leadership team? Are you making the final calls? Be up front about this.

5. Shift from magic wand to Rubik’s Cube solutions.


I use a photo of a magic wand to emphasize how badly I want to grant everyone’s wishes: grade level release time, more co-taught sections, more electives. However, these solutions depend on a magic wand that can make funds magically appear from nowhere. The key is to get staff in the mindset of solving a Rubik’s Cube. What colors need to shift so we can align all of our priorities? Which programs or positions need to change to fund those extra co-teachers?

6. Set priorities.

Virtually every solution is possible. Grade level common planning time? Sure! Student access to all electives? Yes! The key is having your leadership team determine priorities. Have them take the schedule themes gathered and divide them into two categories: essential and important. Rank the essential ones and put the important ones aside. If ensuring grade level common planning time comes at the expense of 6th graders accessing advanced band, you will have a clear rationale in place.

7. Hold one-on-ones.

Once you’ve gathered input and determined priorities, it’s time to design the skeleton schedule. Make some time to meet individually with staff or with each grade level and department team to talk through this design. Walk them through priorities set by your leadership team. Show them what their day and what a student’s day will look like. Use visuals. Leave time for questions. Make sure everyone leaves for summer vacation with a clear idea of what to expect next year.

As a school leader, I am passionate about master scheduling because it is one of the biggest drivers for achieving student equity. I love engaging teachers in these conversations because it is a concrete way to practice placing student needs above our own adult preferences. By starting early, being transparent, and setting priorities, you will be well on your way to truly mastering the master schedule at your site for next year.

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