By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato
If your phone battery is not at 100%, would you still use it? Or, would you sit and wait for it to charge?
If your water bottle is 50% empty, would you continue to use it, or would you immediately go refill it?
If a schedule is 70% ready to be built, would you start building it, or wait until you have 100% of the information?
Here are the correct answers: Use It; Drink It; Make It Now
Start Now, it is Never too Early
I have built many schedules. For new schools, new programs, residential life, and events. In my experience the most important rule about academic scheduling, PK-12, is to start now, because it is never too early. Literally, after the first week of the academic year, most schedule issues arise. Issues need solutions. Solutions need a process. Processes take time. Time is always the main currency of any PK-12 organization, and currency should not be wasted.
Scheduling is All About Percentages
Imagine planning a very traditional elementary school schedule. The homeroom kind of schedule found in many American Schools.
There are 50 teachers. In August the school is getting 10 new teachers. Do I wait for those teachers to arrive to plan the schedule?
Let’s state that another way. I have 83% of my team. Can I make a plan with 83% of my team? Yes.
Observable data and experience would easily indicate that very few people in a school want to be responsible for scheduling. This data would also indicate, that more senior staff are more likely to have the desire to be involved, as they are aware of the issues.
And, do not forget, these 10 new people probably have email or other methods to communicate their goals for scheduling well in advance of the start date. There is no need to wait for their arrival, to incorporate their ideas.
More than 50% of any team can get a tremendous amount of work done. The Pareto Principle is a further reminder that only 20% of the total team is needed to produce 80% of the required output. That is 2 out of 10 people, assuming they have the skills to do the work
Many times the motivation to wait is not related to waiting on data. It is the inverse. The person believes they have enough information. Therefore, they can simply wait to finish the work at an ebb in the their annual workflow. I know have done this many times, and it would be the misjudgment that haunts me the most frequently.
Percentages work both ways. Scheduling is deceptive. People often seem to look at all the information and conclude, “I can wait. I have 90% of the work done.”
In my experience, that last 10% takes just as long, or longer, than the first 90%. The last 10% often involves meeting niche requirements for students, negotiating time sharing with another division, a pending change to a curriculum that will add (or subtract) required hours, etc.
This is another reason to start scheduling for the next year, as early as possible. The time to complete the work is deceptive and often inconsistent.
Waiting for 100% of everything is a waste of scheduling time, and waiting to complete 10% is also a waste of scheduling time. Both strategies can have the same result: an incomplete schedule on opening-day.
The Reality of the Flexibility
There is something I like to call, The Reality of the Flexibility.
Often new scheduling ideas come from a sense of concern: Our children need more…or Our Children need less. Legitimate, and exactly what a school loves to hear from their staff.
However, most schools follow a curriculum, and have to meet requirements outside of their control. For example, a governing body may require every student have four, forty-minute Spanish classes every week. A curriculum connected to a third-party organization might insist that every high school student complete 120 minutes of mathematics every week. This list is endless and often complex.
Having discussions about making changes is important, but most suggestions can be quickly sorted into the “possible” and “impossible” categories.
The day has a finite amount of time, and the year has a finite amount of days. The number of changes possible in any schedule is usually a very small percentage of the total. The reality is, the schedule is usually not that flexible.
The Ideal Timeline
If you want to see some dramatic improvements in scheduling, and have a more pleasant summer vacation, I recommend the following:
- After the first month of school, create a schedule planning document. Send it to anyone who is involved in scheduling. If you need to see a planning document, email me directly. email@example.com
- Have new ideas for schedules submitted by the end of the third month of school.
- At the top of the second semester, top of the third quarter, or bottom of the second trimester (hopefully you see the pattern) have the first version of all the new schedules ready.
- Gather feedback. Adjust. Repeat.
- Do course requests if required.
- After spring break plan a new schedule walkthrough for every division. Find the problems before they are real problems.
- Gather feedback. Adjust. Repeat.
- Have all final schedules in the hands of teachers, students, and parents by the last week of school. Include the following line: “Schedules may change slightly without notice.”