School districts should embrace student-centered scheduling to ensure all students get the classes they want and need, a panel of experts said in a recent webinar.
As scheduling for the various members of a school district — from faculty to students to staff — gets more complex, it is critical for districts to create a strong district scheduling plan that will highlight team roles and responsibilities, be specific about milestones, establish benchmark rubrics and, most importantly, panelists said, put students first.
The webinar, hosted by edWeb.net and sponsored by scheduling software company Always be Learning, featured executives from the company — Amy Filsinger, head of school success, Mike Rettberg, professional services lead, and Chris Walsh, head of the impact — who outlined the central role data plays in keeping up best practices.
Don’t let your data fool you.
“Your [student information system] is probably lying to you,” Rettberg said, emphasizing that
the system that schools lean on to organize operations and learning might not be providing school districts with the most up-to-date data.
Rettberg proposed a master schedule school data audit that provides opportunities to look at different data types that could be hidden in those systems. He recommended scheduling teams to be trained in strategic thinking and given tools to assist in the decision-making process by choosing data and process over traditional intuition.
Because scheduling can be a very isolating and siloed process, Rettberg also advised investing in building capacity and leveraging outside experts to ensure best practices.
The $10 million magnet board
You can almost be guaranteed to see a large magnet board with its color-coded magnets in most school buildings — but something is missing.
Teachers and time periods are always represented on these magnet boards, but “what is missing from this incredibly complex process is students,” Filsinger said, stressing that “every year, schools manage roughly $10 million on a physical magnet board with sticky notes and dry-erase markers.”
Walsh agreed and said most master schedule processes are broken. Teachers are often scheduled first, with students being the last factor in master scheduling.
Instead, districts need to come up with a new way of scheduling.
By creating a scheduling strategy, being intentional about putting students at the center, adapting as needs change and building team capacity, districts and the administrators who run them can tackle master scheduling in a strategic way.
Rettberg advised that school districts need to “avoid turning students into numbers. … We need to be looking at a process that keeps students’ names in the scheduling process.”
The road map
Master scheduling, Filsinger said, should not be a tactile activity delegated to school guidance counselors, but instead, a strategic activity aligned with district goals involving instructional leaders and building principals.
District leaders must clarify that programmatic initiatives need to come alive through the master schedule, she said. This scheduling point of view should focus on why it matters, how the master schedule can help and the resources needed to achieve district goals.
The district master schedule plan should audit and map district and school process and examine the quality of the data, the panelists said.
A realistic multi-year district scheduling plan should include producing accurate scheduling data, equitability of student/teacher course loads, and increasing underrepresented student populations in advanced courses.
In concert with the district information technology department, school districts should accelerate a district’s ability to analyze data, standardize course codes and titles across the school, and a core set of class attributes.