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Covering All the Bases – A Checklist for Successful Master Schedule Building

The following article was published as a blog in the National Catholic Education Association's "NCEA Talk" newsletter.


Building a master schedule is an enormous challenge many educators face each year. Between the requirements students need at each grade level, teacher and room availability, course requests, and more, planning out a high school schedule that works for everyone can consume more hours (or weeks!) than any other school process.

Covering All the Bases – A Checklist for Successful Master Schedule Building

Building a master schedule is an enormous challenge many educators face each year. Between the requirements students need at each grade level, teacher and room availability, course requests, and more, planning out a high school schedule that works for everyone can consume more hours (or weeks!) than any other school process.

Criteria your schedule should meet:

  • It not only fosters a relationship between teachers and students but among students 
  • It is sustainable and realistic, given the school’s resources
  • It provides consistency and minimizes gaps in learning
  • It builds collaboration, providing time for staff to work together to evaluate student learning, adjust  instruction and curriculum, and come together for professional development

Whatever type of master schedule a school adopts, it will only be successful with thorough planning, organization and evaluation of the scheduling model, as well as proper teacher/administrator training. Only when a school reflects on its priorities and considers all its options, can they begin to create a master schedule.

If you are passionate about your schedule but every year find this undertaking more laborious and unpleasant, it is time to find the tools to help you meet your goals. You can bat a thousand and cover all your bases by following these simple steps.

Stepping up to the Plate – A Scheduling Checklist

Step One: Know your Terminology. If you haven’t built a schedule in the past, getting a solid understanding of the difference between a singleton and a doubleton, teacher pools and room pools, conflicts and constraints, among others, is essential. Planning out a successful high school schedule requires a solid grasp of the variables involved for the outcome to optimize the student experience, maximize instructional time and support teachers.

Step Two: Assigning Courses to your Students. Depending on the school model you use, you can choose to assign courses to students, allow them to choose their own, or do a combination of both. Students may submit course requests online, you can generate sign-up sheets via manual or scanned course request forms, or you can produce a Master Course List with details such as level, credits, weights, etc. and print any of these details on students’ schedules.

Step Three: Know Your Options – Scheduling Preferences and Requirements. Once your school has considered its priorities, options and trade-offs you can create your master schedule. This includes determining the number and length of periods or period exclusions, prerequisites, course priority levels, block rotations, and more. Excluding periods, for example, can accommodate part-time teachers, break up the number of courses in a row, or allow for scheduling staff meetings. The schedule you create needs to coincide with your school model, teacher availability, special programs, and class size.

Step Four: Fine Tune and Perfect Your Schedule. An effective schedule will provide students with opportunities to take the courses they need to be college ready. With the right combination of core courses, advanced options and electives, the schedule will provide both students and teachers with an equitable balance of classroom study and strategic instructional planning.

Step Five: Use Software to Build with Control and Confidence. Getting all the pieces of the puzzle together often requires the assistance of a scheduling software solution such as Rediker’s Master Schedule Builder. It can help you prep your Course Requests, listing all students’ requests by department to ensure appropriate course selections; and generate a tally report of students who requested each course by grade, gender, or other criteria.

Time pools - or groupings of possible meeting times that can be linked to courses - allow for courses that meet only some days in the cycle, or meet more than one period on some days. The Master Schedule Builder will try to select a room from the pool that matches both the course and teacher preferences. The builder also tests each possible meeting time and shows you which times are the best. You can also keep your options open by saving and retrieving builds any time during the process.

Step Six: Evaluate and Resolve Conflicts. Once you have a schedule in place, it is time to evaluate and resolve conflicts, such as exceeding section optimums, higher priority courses, and teacher availability. By working with the most difficult courses first, other sections and blocks will fall into place around them. And, if using a schedule builder like Rediker’s, you can easily click and view student schedules and conflicts at any stage of the build, allowing you to evaluate how to adjust your build to maximize course fulfillment and finalize your master schedule.

Bringing it on Home: Aligning Your Priorities

Master Scheduling is the process by which schools build their comprehensive schedule for the school year. It is a complex procedure that requires the careful management and direction of a school’s resources. Once a school reflects on its priorities, considers its options, and selects the best schedule components, they can create a master schedule. The end goal of this process is to utilize a school’s assets to the best educational advantage of the students.