This post originally appeared on the blog Simply Special Ed.
Scheduling for special education can be a daunting task. Just like our kids, we thrive on schedules (and pretty much need them to survive). One tip that I’m going to drive home throughout this post is that we HAVE TO be ok with CHANGE. Why? Because change is completely inevitable. It WILL happen. and it will happen again… and again… and again….
WHERE TO START?
Yup, the hardest part. You have SO MUCH you want to do… but where do you even start?
Okay- Non-negotiables are up first. Kids gotta eat, right? Kids gotta go to the bathroom, right? YUP. + many of these activities have set times. First things first, fill these in on your schedule… then work around them. These things HAVE TO HAPPEN + cannot move around.
* Remember: some things may be different for you. If you have a self contained classroom and your class eats in your room, you can move around the time. If you don’t do inclusion for snack, you could have snack in the afternoon.
Next up, Therapies.
These are HARD to schedule for the therapists. Sometimes we get frustrated with that… but it is BETTER if you are supportive and understanding to what they need to do to fit in their HUGE caseloads.
Some things that I can suggest if your therapists are asking for advice or trying to come up with better ways for things to run smoothly.
+ Have a therapist pick a morning to spend in your classroom.
For example speech. I call it “chunking” Speech will be in the room from 9-11 and providing therapy sessions all morning to JUST your class in ANY ORDER. This is SUPER HELPFUL. If a child needs the bathroom, skip them. If a child is having a meltdown, skip them. If something fun is happening in inclusion, they don’t have to miss it for speech. It’s convenient for the therapist to not walk back and forth to your classroom to their office, and there is a huge push for in class therapy right now.
The best part? They learn your class, your schedule, they could be a center that kids get called to during rotations, they can teach in the natural environment, and they can help you implement things in your classroom.
The best best part? You learn from them, they learn from you… and they become a more cohesive team member. This is my most favorite model… and if you can get a therapist on board you will see double the progress.
+ Have therapists commit a day to your kids that is consistent.
Sometimes having a full dedicated chunk of time to dedicate to one room is tough. Picking a full day where the therapist is in and out is also helpful in being able to switch out kids. (just make sure you have a therapy log, so you know no one is skipped and everyone is receiving the prescribed dosage)
+ Don’t worry about missing things.
Every day, you should be doing centers. Everything in our classrooms is individualized. If your therapist comes back with a time that competes with centers… IT’S OK as a last resort. You can make it work. You can pull the kid 1:1 later and make sure they are getting their time in, and we usually give more than enough ELA and MATH services a week and that makes up for lost time here and there.
+ If they are missing centers, take them during morning work.
+ If they are missing life skills… do a quick version earlier in the day
+ Grab them early on certain days when you are usually waiting for students to arrive.
Here’s what the schedule looks like once filled in with therapies. I was lucky enough to chunk many therapies with this schedule.
Once therapies are put in, it’s time for Must Haves.
These are my must haves. I put lunch on there again but this time it’s staff lunches… you have to keep those in mind too. I can’t offer as much advice when it comes to this. You all have different times, different number of staff, different number of students.
But here is a few tips for staff lunches:
+ Teacher takes lunch during student lunches
+ Staff 1 takes lunch during student recess
+ Staff 2 takes lunch during group work. OR during a time when a student is out of the room for therapies.
+ Staff 3 during independent work, students are supervised but can work mostly alone… squeeze it in when someone is out of the room… or it is an easier activity for students.
I usually tell staff the 3 times available and have them choose amongst themselves when they want to go to lunch.
Don’t fill in staff lunches JUST YET… but DO keep them in mind when you are putting certain activities in place. (“hmmm after lunch may be a good time for para 1 lunch… I’m gonna put group there”)
NOW… fill in your MUST HAVES.
Finally, the fun stuff.
I’m lucky enough to have adapted specials and teachers that are willing to let my students go to inclusion specials at any time that works for them. So This is a “fill in” for me. If you have exact specials time or inclusion specials… those are non-negotiables.. so make sure you do those first.
All of the fill ins are things that kids can miss once in a while… and are nice for you to have a smaller group sometimes. Sometimes I use these for reverse inclusion too!
Here’s what mine looks like with fill ins + Para lunches.
FAVORITE scheduling tips to consider:
+ When all students are in your classroom- shoot for center rotations!
You will get the most out of your kids, and the most differentiation with rotations. You usually don’t need as much staff for groups… and that could also lead to distractions and side chatter so keep this in mind!
+ Independent work saves the day.
Yup, every time. I use task boxes for independent work but you could also use iPads, computer, and sensory. Anything that requires less staff for that student for times when you are down staff.
+ Morning meeting.
To be honest… I don’t have it every day. It really depends on how the morning goes. If morning work is getting done quickly- boom morning meeting… if not we go straight to the next activity. and that is OK.
+ Make use of therapists.
If you have times of day where you are down staff. Reach out to support staff. See if a therapist is able to run a group.
+ Color Code.
Just as I mentioned with student schedules… you can use the same astrobrights colors to color code your schedule too. Here’s what it looks like with therapies color coded for easy reading.
How to keep everyone on the same page:
Okay, we have the student schedules, the whole group schedule, and now your master schedule. But how does everyone quickly know where everyone is and is going next?
Each morning, I quickly jot down the therapies and things NOT on the whole group schedule. It’s all color coded and separated by student. This makes it easy to glance at the board and know who’s going where. It also makes it easy for therapist to change times, rotate kids or see if they are available for testing… and it is OK if they need to make changes. You will make changes every day too. and as the teacher we need to model flexibility for our students and support staff 🙂 Working together makes a great team!
More on the inevitable = schedule changes:
For the first week only print schedules for yourself and your paras. Don’t laminate… don’t hang… don’t get fancy. Run through the schedule and have everyone take notes about what works, what doesn’t, what’s missing and everything in between.
Then alter it for week 2… but AGAIN….do not laminate or fancy it up just yet. Be ready for changes from all ends. It takes me about 2 months to have a solid schedule. Are my kids learning through this time? OF COURSE. But with every year brings new schedule challenges and it takes time to work the kinks out. You aren’t alone so do not stress!
Need the templates?
Alyssa is a substantially separate special education teacher from Massachusetts and author of the blog, Simply Special Ed. Alyssa has a passion for creating resources to build independence in students with disabilities and adapting curriculum to meet the needs of all unique learners. Alyssa loves sharing simple ways to incorporate more into each day (& by more, she means teaching tips, puppies, and farmhouse furniture) @SimplySpecialEd on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.