How Do You Know If Your Schedule Is Toxic?

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Source Newsletter Header Image

Academic Leadership

Your mission describes the rich program your school offers, as well as the outcome you intend for every student. It is why parents chose to enroll their children in your school.

You deliver that mission through your schedule. As an academic leader in your school, you understand the importance of having a schedule that “works.” But what if it doesn’t?

As your schedule becomes more complex, it puts more stress on your students and your faculty. If it gets too hectic, your students may not be able to experience the full benefits of your program.

Here are some symptoms of a schedule that is not serving your students as well as it could.

  • Your program includes specific subject areas that make it special, but because of scheduling conflicts, those courses are limited and some students miss out.
  • The school day is frantic as students try to jam in the courses they need that are infrequently offered.
  • All students are supposed to have a lunch break, but because of scheduling conflicts, lunch may become an option rather than a guarantee.
  • Your schedule seems to be driven by a single course or department.
  • Your overachievers or the parents of these students have convinced the school that course overload is acceptable.
  • Time for clubs, breaks, and even advisory is now on the fringes.
  • Classes are often not held in the appropriate spaces, or your available space is not maximized effectively.
  • Part-time teachers control the schedule because of their limited availability. Or some full-time teachers demand the use of particular rooms or use seniority to mandate schedule restrictions. Or all of the above.
  • Your faculty culture is more territorial than collaborative.

You can see the pattern here—obstacle upon obstacle, preventing your students from getting the full benefits of your program. The following conditions develop that turn the schedule toxic.

  • The schedule never changes even though changes may occur in the school community.
  • Teachers make demands of the scheduler to fill their personal needs.
  • Parents request that their children carry too large of a course load.
  • The program grows naturally over time, causing the scheduler to overfill the program.
  • Departments compete against each other instead of focusing on the needs of the students.
  • Your enrollment increases with no conversation about the space needed to accommodate the program and deliver the mission.

Essentially, the schedule becomes more adult- and institution-focused rather than student-centered. But there are steps you can take to correct the situation and bring the schedule back to serve the mission.

  • Give your scheduler the power to make as many decisions as necessary. Let the scheduler have the flexibility to place students, faculty, and programs in the best spaces and at the best times possible for program delivery.
  • Reorient your teachers at a faculty meeting on an annual basis, reminding them that you have empowered the scheduler to make decisions that are in the “best interests of the students.” This should occur before the scheduler creates the master schedule.
  • Make sure you minimize the use of part-time faculty during the hiring process and strategic planning.
  • Guarantee every student takes a lunch break.
  • Move your faculty culture toward collaboration, minimizing turf issues.
  • Educate parents about the dangers of over-scheduling their children.
  • Review the overall schedule during any significant change, such as building a new program, adding a division, or a big increase in enrollment. If none of those things are on the horizon, revisit the overall schedule every eight years.
  • Clearly outline the number and types of courses students can take in your school policy. In upper school, this may revolve around advanced placement and other higher-level courses. At other levels, address the issue of specialists and pull outs that take away from homeroom and other community time.

By taking these actions, you can help ensure that your schedule is designed for the benefit of the students, thus delivering upon your mission.

The ISM workshop, Student-Centered Scheduling, is designed to help take you back to basics and refocus your scheduling strategy on what’s best for your students. This course will run as part of ISM's School Year Workshops from January 21–25, 2019 … but the workshop is filling fast. If interested, act now!

Additional ISM resources:
The Source for Academic Leadership Vol. 10 No. 3 Speaking of Scheduling …
The Source for Academic Leadership Vol. 9 No. 10 Student-Centered Scheduling

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 41 No. 8 The Annual Strategic Scheduling Meeting
I&P Vol. 32 No. 12 Scheduling and Faculty Culture
I&P Vol. 36 No. 6 Scheduling the Upper School Annual Calendar

Volume Number
Volume 14
Issue Number
Image of a teacher and students in class
Image of a teacher and students in class

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