Whether you’re early on in your career as a special education teacher or you’re a seasoned pro, developing a daily schedule for your classroom has its benefits. And, although creating a daily schedule at the start of the school year may seem like a tedious action item, it will help you, your paraprofessional (if you have one), and your students with extensive support needs stay on task throughout the year.
First things first – create an excel or Google Sheet that clearly outlines each day, Monday-Friday, further broken down into segmented times based on a full school day (for example: 8:55am – 3:35 pm). See quick snapshot of formatting below.
You’ll want to identify and block off the time frames each day in your master classroom schedule that are mandatory and cannot be altered. This could be breakfast, lunch, snack, recess, bathroom breaks, etc. Compile these time frames into your calendar this way you do not plan other lessons or activities during those periods of time.
If your classroom’s special area classes, like physical education, art, and music, are pre-scheduled at certain times, be sure to fill those into your daily schedule next.
Depending on how many adults are present in your classroom each day, whether it’s a paraprofessional or support staff, make sure you include time for their lunch, as well as your own lunch and planning period. These times may shift due to how your days unfold, but you’ll want to pencil in the time frame to ensure it is there.
Next, touch base with each of your students’ related service providers (i.e., speech therapists, occupational therapists, behavioral specialists, etc.) to see what their anticipated schedule is for seeing each of your students that are on their caseload.
Now, take a peek at the available times that remain in your schedule and start to organize your instructional blocks. This can include blocks for reading, math, science, social studies, life skills, transition skills, etc. Depending on the amount of assistance you have in your classroom, rotating centers may be applicable to include here. You can also schedule time for independent centers or self-directed learning, or for younger grades, structured play.
Leave room on your schedule at the end of the day for your students to finish up what they are learning, pack up their belongings, and clean up their area. There are two great benefits to this: first, they end the day and head home on a positive, organized note, and second, they are ready to start fresh the following day.
Once you have a master classroom schedule in place, you can start to build out individual student schedules where needed to zero in on more details for each of your students. Keep in mind that while some students will respond positively to the classroom schedule and will not need additional support, others will benefit from the use of an individual schedule and one-on-one time during transitions, etc.
Lastly, share the schedule with the other adults in your room and see how well it works for the first week.
It’s very likely that you will adjust it and fine tune it over the first few weeks, but remember – the key to a successful schedule is consistency. Implementing your schedule, day in and day out, is what will help your students learn it, adapt to it, follow it, and be successful within it. Once you feel like your schedule is solid and works well with your classroom, go ahead and add in some more visual components to it. You can print these out, laminate them, hang them up in your class, and so on.
Once you have a strong foundation in place for your daily schedule and everyone is comfortable with it, you can make some useful modifications over time. Try color coding different time blocks to make it easier to visualize different parts of the day or color coding the initials of students for whom you and the other classroom educators are taking data during specific times of the day. Additionally, adding occasional changes to your daily schedule, preparing students for them, and practicing them helps students be more open to times when the schedule has to change, like for a school-wide assembly, a fire drill, or a weather delay.
A schedule is as useful and essential for students as it is for the adults in the classroom. If we model creating and following a predictable schedule, our students will become comfortable with it, engage in more positive, quicker transitions between activities, and learn to trust that our classroom is a safe space where they know what to expect throughout the day.