Administration & Leadership

Building a Master Schedule for 180 Productive Days

For many administrators, putting together a strategic plan for the school year is tough, but asking for help from staff makes it a lot easier.

July 7, 2023
AJ_Watt / iStock

There are 180 school days in a school year, and those days go by at lightning speed. With a limited amount of time and a lot of action items to accomplish, what’s a leader to do? How can a leader be productive? Formulating a well-crafted master plan is vital. 

Unfortunately, some principals make two major mistakes prior to the start of the school year that hinder their ability to be productive. They formulate a plan in isolation, and they wait until the last minute to start stewarding the plan that they created. However, when an effective leader formulates a well-crafted master plan, they involve key stakeholders in the entire process; identify “big rocks,” or top priorities, to home in on; and set dates and times to implement and monitor their progress. 

The master plan is the system and structure that an effective leader creates and consistently governs to ensure that all key stakeholders are able to assist in effectively stewarding the mission, vision, and school performance plan. The master plan is the most important system and structure, as it sets the foundation for ongoing collaboration, prioritizing, and monitoring. 

Collaborating: Involving Key Stakeholders

An effective leader maximizes their productivity by being proactive rather than reactive. They begin planning for a school year three to five months in advance and understand that they can’t do this work alone. They identify key stakeholders when planning and making decisions that impact how the school will be governed each day. In most cases, these team members operate in the following positions: assistant principals, lead teachers, counselors, master schedulers, and testing coordinators. 

Once a leader identifies key stakeholders, it’s vital that they avoid making decisions unilaterally. By working together, the core group is able to steward the mission, vision, and school performance plan collaboratively with fidelity. Ultimately, an effective leader sets the stage for united decision-making by establishing set meeting times, clearly communicating individual responsibilities, collaboratively establishing group norms, engaging in team building, and utilizing a well- documented rolling agenda with action items and next steps. 

Involving key stakeholders in the planning before, during, and after the school year is the epitome of shared leadership and teamwork. An effective leader also understands that they are the filter of the schoolhouse. Everything they do or don’t do will impact the climate and the culture in one way or the other. As overwhelming as it may sound, the leader sets the tone for everything, especially for how school teams collaborate and share leadership. 

PRIORITIZING: Identifying Big Rocks

An effective leader must identify three to six big rocks—priorities that they will lead key stakeholders in working toward with fidelity for 180 school days. These are key action items that must be accomplished and brought to fruition. True leaders establish these top priorities so that they can get clear about where they will lead their team in exerting energy and focus. 

It’s important to note that big rocks must be data-driven and clearly defined via an agreed-upon definition of terms. Therefore, effective leaders and their teams should collaboratively identify these items after reviewing multiple data sets and sources that pertain to curriculum, instruction, discipline, safety, attendance, grading, climate, and culture. These big rocks are crucial when prioritizing. Remember, every action item is not a top priority; if every action item is a top priority, absolutely nothing will get accomplished.

In the last school year, my leadership team decided that our big rocks would be student-centered instruction, classroom management, and attendance. Once we identified our big rocks, we developed instructional tools to implement schoolwide that would perpetuate success. When considering student-centered instruction, we defined the term as students being able to engage in dialogue and write clear and concise paragraphs with minimal teacher prompting. 

We then leveraged two educational tools: reciprocal teaching math sentence stems to promote collaborative conversations (dialogue) and the claim-evidence-reasoning method to promote clear and concise writing. By working collaboratively, our leadership team was able to successfully steward this big rock to fruition. As a result, students were more engaged during classroom instruction, and they experienced gains in reading, writing, and speaking, as evidenced by teacher-made and district assessments. 

MONITORING: Setting Checkpoints

Leaders should understand the importance of backward mapping and planning with the end in mind. This skill is crucial and will make or break how productive the school year is. You can strategically backward-map by utilizing a shared e-calendar to establish set meeting times, checkpoints, and important events, such as professional development (PD), parent nights, pre-service week, and midyear conferences. 

Once the meeting times, checkpoints, and important events have been established, they will need to be consistently monitored. This can be done by capturing qualitative and quantitative data via collaborative-planning notes, data from learning walks, PD, observation, testing, and attendance. Leaders should emphasize the importance of consistently monitoring because what gets measured gets done.  

Effective leaders allocate time to formulate a well-crafted master plan because doing so is the catalyst for collaboration, prioritizing, and monitoring, which will inevitably lead to 180 productive school days.  

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