How to Create a Self-Contained, Special Education Master Schedule That Makes Your Classroom Run Like Clockwork

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  • Setting up your self-contained classroom schedule can be a bit intimidating at times. You have to take into account the number of students you have and their needs and supports, as well as the number of staff available in your classroom. It is also important to consider the proper implementation of any curriculum you are using, and what parts of the day students and staff will be venturing out into general education settings. Making all of these factors come together in a way that flows is like piecing together a puzzle. Maybe that’s why I get excited about schedules- I am a bit of a nerd that loves puzzles! In this post, I will break down my thought process in laying out my classroom schedule. A spreadsheet program works best, such as Excel or Google Spreadsheets. I am sure you could create table on Word or Docs and organize the schedule that way as well. For the purposes of this tutorial, I will be using Excel. So open up a new worksheet and let’s get started!
How to create a master schedule for your special educaiton, self-contained classroom.

Step 1: Find out the Basics

  • The first thing you need to do before you can start creating your classroom schedule is find out the numbers! Confirm what you will be expecting for numbers of students, student needs, and how many paraprofessionals you will have in your room. I suggest checking in with your administration just in case any staffing changes or newly registered students need to be taken into account. Keep in mind however, this can change at any time! One year I had all schedules done and my classroom set up and then found out I was getting a new student the day before the first day of school. Always be prepared to have to make changes at any time. This year I am expecting 5 students and have 2 para-professionals assigned to my classroom. I also have an additional student who joins us for 3 hours in the middle portion of our day.
  • Once I have this information, I open a new spreadsheet and label columns for Time, Activity, Teacher, and each Paraprofessional. Of course, on my actual schedule I use our names, but for this purpose I will make it generic. In the Time column, I split my day into 30 minute increments to be filled in. As I input activities, I adjust the times as needed to make them longer or shorter.

Step 2: Add Any Non-Flexible Activities

  • Next I start putting the non-flexible activities into the schedule. Some of these activities include arrival time, circle time, lunch, recess, specials classes, and dismissal. These are the activities that I have no control over as far as when they occur. All my other activities will need to work around these.
  • My students attend specials (art, music, PE, etc.) with their general education peers. This year they all attend with one of our 4th grade general education classes. If you have many different grades in your classroom, you may consider sending students in small groups with their corresponding grade level. You just need to make sure you have the support available to make that happen, especially if a paraprofessional will need to go with them.

Step 3: Include Your Daily Subjects

  • In a self-contained classroom, we are responsible for teaching all subjects, so we need to allot a times to include the main subject areas of ELA, Math, and Science/Social Studies. Also include times for any supplemental programs that go along with these subjects. For example I have a small group ELA time where we utilize our Unique Learning System (ULS) curriculum for all students. At another time I use supplemental reading programs from Attainment Company,

Step 4: Decide on Additional Activities Based on Student Needs and Goals

  • Next, I add in any additional activities that will reinforce skills, provide practice, and address student IEP goals. Some examples of things you may wish to include in your day are gross motor activities, snack time, work stations, life skills, or social skills. Some of these activities can rotate throughout the week. Find a way to keep this general on your Master schedule to make it simpler to look at. You can always make individual schedules for particular activity times if you need them. For example, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays you do Life skills and on Tuesdays and Thursdays you practice Social Skills. You will have to decide what your preferences are for your classroom and students.

Step 5: Assign Staff to Students and Activities

  • Now that all your activities and times are filled in, it is time to assign students to yourself and your staff. Specify which student(s) each staff member will be assisting during each activity. I have one student who receives adult support services, meaning this student must have a staff member with him/her at all times during the day, so this is reflected in the schedule. I also have a student who only joints us for a portion of the school day.
  • This gives us a basic outline of where everyone needs to be, ensuring that all students are supported during each part of the school day. In the next step, I will add staff roles within each activity, as well as other tasks such as bathroom breaks, help with feeding needs, etc.

Step 6: Assign Staff Roles Within Activities

  • This is where I write a brief description of what each adult will be doing to assist each student within the activities. At this point I also include scheduled bathroom visits, feedings, etc. Once all this information is entered you should have a good representation of what your day should look like. While completing this step, you may discover some adjustments need to be made to meet all students’ needs. Adding these details now may save you some time later by helping you mentally walk through your day.

Step 7: Add Some Color and Review With Your Classroom Staff

  • Lastly, I add colors to each column to make it easier to read and follow. Once complete I sit and run through the entire schedule with my classroom staff. Sometimes as you are talking through what the day will look like, you and/or your staff will find some kinks to fix before the first day ever comes. Once this schedule is set, you can use it to make individual schedules for students, making sure all their needs are met and goals are addressed during each activity. You can upload your completed schedule into Google Drive and share it with my administrators. This makes it very easy to make ongoing changes as your needs and make-up of your classroom may change.

A Last Thought on Scheduling

  • Make sure to be in the mindset that your schedule may need to be flexible! I always have to make several changes throughout the year to accomodate new students, address behaviors, or make instructional changes. This is why I recommend uploading your schedule into Google Drive. Since I have to share my schedule with my administrators, it ensures they always have a current copy of any changes throughout the year. It saves you from having to remember to email them every time you make a change. If you are prepared for changes, it is much less frustrating when they come!
  • I hope this helps you create your classroom schedule for your self-contained special education classroom. It is always less overwhelming at the start of each new year when you have a basic master schedule in place. An effective master schedule can help guide your organization of materials, scheduling any related services (speech, O.T., P.T., etc.), as well as lend to the set-up of your classroom environment. Comment below with any tips, questions, or other suggestions to consider when creating a classroom schedule!
How to create a master classroom schedule for your self-contained, special education classroom.

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