6 Steps to Create an Effective Schedule for Your Self-Contained Classroom

Setting up a schedule in a self-contained classroom is one of the hardest parts of our job. I remember my first year of teaching thinking, “why did no one teach me how to do this in college?” After years and years of tweaking my daily schedule, I finally settled on the same master schedule every year and I actually came to love this part!
Don't be fooled, I am an organizational freak, so this type of stuff gets me excited!  Let me preface by saying that there is no magic wand I wave and suddenly my master schedule is created.
However, after a few drafts, I typically have a working schedule.  Now… don't get me wrong, there are many (many, many) times that I will have a scheduling conflict with a service provider and we will need to both stare at our schedules for what seems like hours to “fix it”, but I am telling you, this will happen regardless.
1. Decide Your Chunks of Time:
The first thing you should do is set up your schedule by 15, 30 or 45-minute increments.  You want to chunk up your classroom time depending on the age level that you have.  Use the chart below to start building your schedule.  You can use a printable schedule, an excel spreadsheet, or this editable Google Sheet™ template that I made for you.
Primary students 15 minutes
Middle Schoolers 30 minutes
High Schoolers 45 minutes
2. Write in your non-negotiables:
The next thing you need to do is start writing in your non-negotiables.
  • Lunch
  • Special areas (primary grades)
  • Electives (Secondary)
  • Recess/free time
  • Homeroom
  • Arrival
  • Dismissal

All of these things cannot be moved and therefore should be the first thing that you should schedule in.  It's also important to work with your school on the master school schedule to make sure that you are representing your students to make sure that they are included in the school schedule.

3. Whole Group time:
From there, think about when you want to meet with your students in whole group.  Whether you are leading a Calendar group or morning meeting, or social skills group, you want to make sure that as many of your students will be in the classroom as possible.  Some may have to leave sometimes and that is ok.  You will not have the perfect schedule.  Maybe this block of time is not touched.  You can gray this area out and let your service providers know that they can't take Johnny at that time.
4. Schedule the Related Service Providers:
From there, make sure that you meet with all service providers as soon as possible.  I try to meet with them first so that they don't fill up the best time slots with other teachers and students.  I make sure to meet with speech, OT, PT, and any other related service providers.  I will schedule those times in and try not to have any conflicts.
5. Schedule in the Center Ideas or Activities:
 I try to make a list of centers before I start schedules so that I know what my classroom set up will look like.   You can read more about how to set up your classroom here.
You know your classroom the best (make sure that you have read and reread the students IEP's and filled out IEP-at-a-glances) be sure to choose centers or activities that not only work with your classroom environment but also with the needs of your students.
Check out this list of possible center ideas:
  • Math
  • English Language Arts
  • Science
  • Social Studies
  • Content (mix of both Science and Social Studies)
  • Computer
  • Independent Center
  • Vocational Center (secondary)
  • Sensory
  • Dramatic Play (primary)
  • Boom Card™ station
  • task boxes
  • teacher center
  • IEP bins
  • Social Skills
  • Cooking
  • Motor lab
  • Community-Based Instruction (CBI)
  • Morning Work
Start plugging in your centers into each cell of your Google Sheet™(or other schedules)  I like to color-code each center so that I know just by glancing, that each student has a certain center.
6. Planning Time and Lunch:
Once your schedule is complete, make sure that you are scheduling-in your lunch and your planning time.  It is very important to allow yourself to step away from your students to plan for your week.  Allowing yourself this time will not only make you a better teacher, but your students need that time away from you as well.  
BONUS TIP: Try making a schedule for every day of the week!
Some people plan with the days across the top of the schedule, but I make a different schedule every day of the week, so I plan for each kid, with their names across the top.  This allows me to personalize their schedules and assign paraprofessionals to this schedule as well. This depends on your preference of course.
The only other thing that can get tricky is scheduling your paraprofessional's lunches.  The one thing that I do is make sure that they go to lunch one at a time, and the student that needs support would either be working with me, at therapy, in an independent station, or with another para.  This is why it is IMPERATIVE that you start teaching them how to do activities and tasks independently as early as possible. You can read here all about why independent centers are so important.
Once you have a completed schedule, you can start making your student's individual schedules.  There are so many different types of schedules that you can use for your students.  Try not to give them all of the same schedules.  Try creating a schedule that fits their needs.  Some students may need an object schedule, some students may need a written schedule in their planner, and some may need your typical visual (icon) schedule.  Then start prepping!
You can grab this checklist plus some editable versions in PowerPoint here, or click the picture below.
Hopefully, this blog post helped you create that schedule and as always, if you have questions, feel free to email me at Lisa @ChalkBoardSuperhero.com
You can Pin this blog post for later here:

I am a High School, self-contained Autism teacher from Central New York, who is passionate about individualizing student learning. I am a mommy of three, lover of all things Disney, married to my best friend and addicted to chocolate!! I hope that you find great ideas and inspiration here, so welcome!!

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