Overcoming the Nightmare of SPED Scheduling
Whether you are a brand new SPEDucator or you have been in the game a while it is not a secret that scheduling in our school communities is a hot mess. Without quoting all of the research that exists out there, lack of prioritization in scheduling leads to a slew of concerns that not only impacts outcomes for our students but the retention of great teachers. This happens because when our kids' schedules are not quite right the "responsibility" of figuring it out often falls on the service provider. Let me make a quick caveat for the master schedulers out there. The work they are doing is super hard, especially in high school when credits matter and fitting it all in is not the easiest task. However it is imperative that genuine conversations are happening to create a better way around this. As the time is approaching for the creation of master calendars there is no better time than the present to take a look at how to begin overcoming the nightmare that SPED scheduling has become.
1: Have OPEN and FORMALIZED conversations about scheduling!
When making a master school schedule it is essential that a SPED representative is at the table. Nothing is worse than creating an entire master schedule only to realize the population of students with the greatest needs has been forgotten. Not to mention that in secondary this can impair students' on-time graduation. I remember having to spend 6 weeks fixing schedules my first year as a Director because these conversations did not happen. This led to an immense amount of stress for students and teachers. Proactively scheduling for students is imperative. I outline how to begin this process on my Tip of the Week (@becomingexceptional).
2: Know the service needs of your department
It is incredibly hard for a master scheduler to prioritize SPED if we do not know what we are asking for. Create a running department spread sheet. Each case manager should update their students' service needs. Your department can then rank how many of each course will be needed or where their time should be spent to meet these needs. This is then shared and explained with the master scheduler. I do want to make a note here that depending on your model this may look different for your school.
This is an area that schools tend to often over serve or under serve students. By having a clear snapshot of your holistic needs you are communicating high expectancy for students, their families, and teachers.
3: Prioritize your requests and commit to growth
Systems take years to build. Although we see gaps in how many things could be done better, our program is only one small part to a school's approach to scheduling. Be realistic about what you are asking for. Understand that it will take time to make scheduling something that is proactive in your building. Having a growth mindset will allow you to feel valued while respecting the choices that are being made for your community.
4: Communicate with your feeder schools
I often get asked, "What about the students who are coming? What if we don't know what they need?" This is a reality for all schools transitioning students. Although it is not a perfect system, most schools have feeder schools. Form relationships with these schools and set aside time to meet with them while master scheduling. Most of their case managers know where their students are transitioning. Create a tentative list of students with their service and transitional needs. This allows you to make informed decisions when scheduling students in those transitioning grade levels. Follow-up conversations should be arranged returning from summer break to make adjustments as needed, however your workload will decrease significantly by working with these schools.
If you have center based programs it is IMPERATIVE relationships are built with program directors for these students. This will create a much smoother transition for all providers, students, and families. I suggest holding a transitional meeting with all stakeholders prior to the summer before transition begins.
5: Transparency is KEY!
It is important that you do not take on problem-solving student schedules as your sole responsibility. Just as you have to compromise, it is very important you are communicating with your leadership team areas that are unmanageable. In order to keep great educators, administration needs to know how scheduling impacts your workload and day-to-day capabilities. For example, if you have students in four classes across one period that all have service needs, you have to advocate how this limits your ability to adequately serve these minutes. With so many areas to consider, leadership often does not understand the impact of scheduling decisions unless they are communicated with them clearly and professionally. As you identify the highest priority items for scheduling, feel empowered to draw boundaries with your time when you are stretched too thin. A true work-life balance is essential in order to be a truly great teacher.