Increasingly elementary schools across the country are able to construct master schedules with common planning time for teams of teachers (usually grade levels). The purpose for providing common time is to allow teachers to meet collaboratively to discuss instruction, curriculum, student needs, and to plan enrichment and intervention groupings and activities. What administrators must remember, however, is that this time also is teachers’ individual preparation time required for lesson planning, grading etc. In strong union states it is not unusual for the contract to protect a minimum number of individual planning minutes.
Whether motivated by contract limitations or a sense of fairness, some schools have begun to build schedules that offer an occasional (quarterly, monthly or even weekly) additional planning period for PLC discussions. With the detailed planning necessary for Response to Intervention (RTI) the need for this additional group planning time has become even greater. In our book “Elementary School Scheduling: Enhancing Instruction for Student Achievement” chapter four offers several planning scenarios for the Intervention/Enrichment (I/E) period, our scheduling vehicle for providing Tier 2 and 3 RTI interventions and enrichment activities. The planning required to make I/E and RTI successful is significant.
Some schools have provided extra time for PLC planning for teacher teams through substitutes, but this is not always possible and usually cannot be provided frequently enough. In chapter 3 of our book Canady and I outline two other ways to provide this extended planning period, one of which Terri Keck (principal of Henry Clay Elementary School in Hanover County Virginia) and I built into her master schedule a couple of years ago. This summer we tweaked the master schedule a bit and I was reminded of the utility of this extended block.
Henry Clay is a K-2 school with 6 sections of kindergarten and 7 sections of both 1st and second grades. To create the encore schedule we divided each grade level in half (3 classes and 3 classes in kindergarten and 3 classes and 4 classes in grades 1 and 2). Because class size was small in grades 1 and 2 we were able to divide the fourth section in the larger “half” of both grade levels among the other three sections; thus our basic encore schedule was designed for three groupings (classes) per time block.
Because encore teachers are assigned in somewhat of an awkward fashion to the school we were unable to do a rotational schedule (see chapter 3) and were stuck with a M-F encore plan. This is illustrated on the “rotations” sheet of the file attached below. To even out what students receive in encore classes we change encore schedules for teachers slightly every six weeks. The blocks that are assigned to each grouping of teachers are highlighted in yellow on the “Master” sheet of the Excel file. Each group of teachers receives 45 minutes of planning time daily from this schedule. This schedule, however, does not provide common planning time for the entire grade level as we had divided the grade level in half for planning purposes.
So to provide common planning time once weekly for the entire grade level and to allow time to plan for the details of the Intervention/Enrichment (I/E) period we created a 30-minute “Encore 2” schedule every Tuesday; this required additional resources to cover three classes per block on that day. We chose Tuesday because the library media specialist was not utilized in the daily encore schedule on Tuesdays. The school also had a guidance counselor and a writing teacher that were utilized in this rotation. As shown to the far right on the “rotations” sheet, the three classes per grouping rotate among library, guidance, and writing, receiving a class from each teacher once every three weeks. So teachers have 75 minutes of planning every Tuesday. By strategically placing this 30-minute block (shown in flesh tone on the “master” sheet) we created a 60-minute common planning time for the entire grade level once a week. The teachers meet weekly during this time for a variety of purposes, while the remainder of their allocated planning time is preserved for individual planning purposes. This type of model plus a second option is explained in detail in chapter 3.
What do you think?