Unlocking the Power of Student-Centered Scheduling: 5 Proven Strategies for Success

Howard serves as Abl’s visionary leader, focused on driving innovation and opening doors for districts to deliver impact for their schools and communities. He has over 25 years of leadership experience in educational technology companies including Hobsons, Kaplan Inc., Kaplan Test Prep, and Scholastic. In addition, Howard has also has leadership experience at Study Group and Wayne State University where he was a business school instructor and lead executive of the TechTown, an urban technology park in Detroit, MI. Howard is a proud product of Atlantic City High School in New Jersey.

At Abl, we believe that every student deserves an education that accounts for their unique passions, past experiences, and future ambitions. We also recognize that where a student sits for seven hours a day tremendously impacts the opportunities available to them after graduation. 

The school schedule plays a vital role in shaping students’ educational experiences. The way schools structure the school day can significantly impact equity and access, teaching and learning optimization, and the efficient use of resources. 

Throughout various summer professional development sessions, we have had the privilege of collaborating with school districts on the importance of scheduling in promoting a fair and inclusive educational environment. Below, we explore five key strategies that we recommend for districts embarking on the journey of creating equitable school schedules.

Strategy 1

Prioritize teacher collaboration and robust student interactions

Scheduling determines how students and staff interact every single day, and these interactions are at the core of the educational experience. To foster equity, we must focus on promoting collaboration among teachers and ensuring meaningful interactions between students. 

It is important to:

  • Provide common planning time for teaching teams, breaking down barriers between subjects, and enabling teachers to collaborate effectively.
  • Be mindful of the differences in teacher caseloads, such as student demographics and class sizes, because they can help identify and address potential disparities.
  • Examine student-to-student interactions to ensure that all students have equal opportunities for social and academic engagement.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • How much common planning time currently exists within our teaching teams, and how might we increase it to promote collaboration?
  • In what ways can we ensure that student interaction receives equal consideration like staff interaction in the scheduling process?

Strategy 2

Shift from sorting to supporting

In the past, traditional school schedules often sorted students based on perceived abilities rather than supporting their diverse needs and aspirations. It is essential to challenge these traditional structures and consider how the schedule can be redesigned to empower all students.

It is important to:

  • Identify any scheduling practices that inadvertently segregate students based on ability or other factors.
  • Embrace a personalized learning approach that can help ensure that all students feel supported on their educational journey.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • What is an example of a support you have built into your school’s structure? What supports would you like to incorporate?
  • How do my course offerings contribute to unintentional sorting of students?
  • What would need to change about our school’s structure to meaningfully support students?

Strategy 3

Reevaluate constraints and preferences

Equitable schools place the student voice at the forefront, which requires challenging entrenched adult preferences and constraints. It is crucial to identify and examine the “sacred cows” that may be influencing scheduling decisions and differentiate them into constraints and preferences.

It is important to:

  • Engage in tough conversations around these preferences and constraints so that your scheduling process can become more inclusive and equitable. 
  • Be willing to reevaluate existing practices or policies that adult preferences may drive, ensuring that the scheduling decisions align with the overall goal of supporting what is best for students.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Are there any practices or policies related to scheduling that have been influenced by staff preferences and need to be reevaluated to ensure greater equity and access for students?
  • Are there any scheduling constraints or preferences that disproportionately impact certain student groups? How can we mitigate these effects?
  • How can we foster a collaborative environment where staff members can openly discuss and address their preferences in a way that aligns with the overall goal of supporting student success and well-being?

Strategy 4

Offer structured choice in diverse pathways

An equitable school schedule should offer a diverse range of educational pathways that cater to different student interests and postsecondary goals. Each pathway must lead to a meaningful graduation that prepares students for success in college and career.

It is important to:

  • Regularly review and refine your course catalog, making adjustments to offer equal access and participation for all students.
  • Seek input from students, teachers, and community members to identify potential gaps in the course offerings and ensure that diverse perspectives are considered.
  • Provide comprehensive information and guidance to students and families about the various pathways available, helping them make informed decisions based on their aspirations and interests.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Are there areas in which we offer too many or too few course offerings? What is the impact for students in each case?
  • Are there any courses or programs that have historically had limited enrollment? How can we increase participation?
  • What support systems can we put in place to help students navigate the available choices and make informed decisions about their educational pathways?

Strategy 5

Facilitate adult alignment and effective communication

Creating an equitable school schedule requires a cohesive team effort. Transparent communication and breaking down silos between different departments and teams involved in the scheduling process are crucial.

It is important to: 

  • Establish a shared vision for scheduling and cultivate a collaborative culture that supports ongoing improvements to help align all staff members in pursuit of a common goal.
  • Foster regular communication channels among administrators, teachers, and support staff to ensure that everyone is informed and involved in the scheduling process.
  • Conduct regular meetings or workshops to address any concerns, share updates, and seek feedback from all stakeholders involved in the scheduling decisions.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • How can we facilitate open and transparent communication between different departments and teams involved in the scheduling process?
  • What steps can we take to ensure that all staff members understand the rationale behind scheduling decisions and their impact on students?
  • How can we create a shared vision for equitable scheduling and build a collaborative culture that supports ongoing improvements?

School scheduling is a fundamental aspect of providing all students with an inclusive and enriching educational experience. By prioritizing teacher collaboration, supporting robust student interactions, challenging traditional practices, offering diverse pathways, and fostering effective communication, districts can take significant strides toward creating a fair and equitable learning environment for all students. Through careful examination and thoughtful implementation of these strategies, we can ensure that our schools are places where every student has the opportunity to thrive and succeed.