When you think about returning to school, one of the first things on your list is probably creating your schedule, right? Creating your daily schedule is like playing a game of Tetris. There are all of these different pieces coming from different places, and you need to find a way to make them fit together perfectly before time runs out. After 6 years, I have figured out some fool-proof tips to make scheduling much less stressful, and faster – giving you more time to work on the many other things on your never-ending to-do list.
My very first year as a school social worker, creating my schedule was a nightmare. I remember staying until 6pm, for several days, trying to make it work. I had a very high caseload to start the year, but I had also made a few mistakes. The biggest one was waiting until almost every other related service had their schedule in place. The school I was at provided a lot of services, including daily services like ELL. For some reason, I was under the impression that I was supposed to wait for the other services to schedule. While there still are services that have more priority when scheduling, unless there is an extenuating circumstance, don’t wait. You will have all of the leftover slots to choose from. These slots are usually less than ideal in the teacher’s eyes, especially for social work or counseling.
This next tip actually came from my internship. My supervisor was using it in a different way, but it can work in many different situations. When visiting teachers to start scheduling students, ask them for their top 2 time choices. This will give you options the teacher is comfortable with, and is really helpful when everyone tries to ask for that one time slot. There’s always one every year that seems to work best for everyone – this year ours was 11:05-11:35.
Which leads me to tip #3: Highlight the times that are unique. Once you have you have gotten your top 2 times from each teacher, find the times that are unique to give you less overlap. Most of the time, the unique times are what I use to schedule. I still use the times that are similar, as they are usually during something like a study hall or a time with less instruction, but it depends on the needs of the student and the flexibility of that particular teacher.
A lot of creating a schedule is prioritizing. I always schedule my classroom lessons first because they are affecting a large group of students at once. Scheduling students with IEP minutes is also a priority for me. Students with IEPs have minutes that legally have to be met, and generally have more limited times to pick from. What are your priorities?
When I create my schedule, I try to prepare for potential situations: What days are my meetings usually on? If I miss this specific social skills lesson, will I have to make it up? Will this student be able to wait until Thursday each week to talk to me, or should I schedule them earlier in the week? I try to avoid scheduling certain things on days or times that would have to be made up, would be difficult to make up, or could create other issues. One example of how I do this is scheduling class lessons and IEP students only on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Mondays and Fridays are often school holidays, so avoiding those days for essential things prevents me from making them up frequently. Also, meetings. If you know you have MTSS meetings every other Wednesday from 8-12, try not to schedule essential students or lessons during that time. You won’t be able to make up everything that gets missed, so prepare for the ones that need to be.
Communicate with related or special education services. It can be so frustrating to walk to a classroom to pull a student, and another service already has. Check with other members of the special education team to make sure your times don’t accidentally overlap. We all have a lot on our minds at the beginning of the year, and sometimes teachers may give out a time that has already been taken. Rely on yourself to make sure your schedule works.
Color-code all the things! My first year as a school social worker I wrote my schedule on a paper template. I have since found it to be much easier to use a spreadsheet, especially for changes or mistakes. I create my schedule using Google Sheets, labeling the first column with time increments going down, and the days of the week across the top. My schedule includes a key to the right with colors for each grade level and study hall times. When I enter in student times, I include their name and an asterisk if they have IEP minutes, their time slot written out, and color-code the whole entry matching their grade level. I also include my lunch, plan time, and any duty in red so I really know what is left to schedule from. If you decide to use a spreadsheet, I have found it helpful to duplicate the sheet and name it with the date when my schedule changes for any reason – particularly helpful for billing when you need to see if an IEP student’s time changed.
My final tip for you is to use what you have for next year! This final and essential tip is partially what makes scheduling so much more simple for me each year. If your school schedule for the following year doesn’t change, and you color-coded everything by grade for this year, you already have your times to choose from. Be sure to double-check with each teacher, but why go through the process of gathering information and piecing things together if you already have what you need? To do this I make a copy of my previous schedule, delete the names while keeping the color slots, and fill them in with that year’s students.
I hope you find these tips helpful and wish you a painless scheduling process! Do you have other tips for scheduling that have been helpful? Share them in the comments! Interested in other tools for scheduling and planning? Check out my social worker planner here.