Schools are not the only organizations with a host of constituents demanding varied needs be met, but they offer a great case study. I have broken these steps into two distinct parts: Theoretical and Building. Both are essential to success over 180 days.
Warning: It is easy to skip steps, especially the theoretical. This groundwork is essential for the building portion to work. Otherwise, you’ve got a “Blind Men and the Elephant” scenario. Still, you can check out Part 2 here.
Part One: Theoreticals: At this point of development, the schedule is like a river: Water is fluid, bends around anything and fills every crevice. Much like time. Here, you will begin to construct the vessel that contains it (beginning with Start and End times of the day) and identifying those impediments it needs to flow around.
1. Vision: The schedule is a physical manifestation of the vision. For example, if you want certain people to collaborate they need the same preps. Or, if starting the day with a Restorative Justice circle in homeroom is important, than the day cannot begin before 8:20, so teacher have at least 15 minutes to start the day right. Make a list of the vision(s) in all respects and then figure what elements of the schedule facilitate that.
2. Recognize What’s Just Tradition: Much of the schedule is the remnants of old visions, initiatives and needs. In keeping what worked this year, we often perpetuate other patterns that no longer drive the schedule. For example, we had Art scheduled on a day that worked for the part-time Art teacher, who worked at other schools on other days–when her situation changed, no one thought of changing the day. Spending time just messing with assumptions both helps question how things are done and opens up new possibilities. Often, these are impediments to work around that people do not even realize they are accommodating for; removing them frees up possibilities. Even those that are preferential may not be as non-negotiable as an issue that comes up later than is mission critical to members.
3. Plan for Two Years (at Least): The class sizes are clear–if the 3rd grade needs three teachers, the 4th grade will need it next year. You should also account for what the 4th grade looks like the year after, too. Which class sizes are close to a bust (so that three kids moving in in August requires an additional teacher, classroom and the like), or might not be sustainable (i.e., that teach could be moved to a grade that needs her more)? Plan teams, room assignments and the like towards that. Also, think how part time staff will be used over that time. It may not seem directly related to the schedule, but a) planning two years makes you be realistic about next year, and b) most schedules go south because small, unexpected changes that happen before September 15. Best be ready.
4. Define Non-negotiables: What are bedrock points, that no one can touch. For example, at one point 60 minutes of Math and 90 minutes of Literacy a day were non-negotiable in the schedule. For any grade level, I would advocate for 3 hours a day uninterrupted–no lessons, pull-outs or other distractions; we are guaranteed all of our kids for that period of time. Class size might be another (Art can only hold 25 students physically in the room).
Part Two: Building: The mistake here is to see this as blocks needing to be stacked. It’s true, in a sense, but when that mental shift happens the schedule produced becomes a series of pounding square pegs into round holes; lots of edges feel the rub. At the same time, the water metaphor no longer works because a rigid line is needed in order to truly understand what works and what only seems to work (but, in the details, things are lost).