How Well Does Your Master Schedule Reflect Your Core Values, Mission, and Vision


Note: ​School Leadership Reimagined is produced ​as a podcast and designed to be ​listened to, not read. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which includes emotion and emphasis that's not on the page. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

You're listening to the School Leadership Reimagined Podcast, episode number twentyeight.

Welcome to the School Leadership Reimagined podcast...

where we rethink what's possible to transform your school. If you're tired of settling for small wins and incremental improvement, then stay tuned to discover powerful and practical strategies for getting every teacher in your school moving towards excellence. Now, here's your host, Robyn Jackson.

Hey Builders!

Welcome to another episode of School Leadership Reimagined. I’m your host Robyn Jackson and today we’re gonna talk about something we almost never discuss. It’s your master schedule.

Most of us treat our master schedules like a necessary evil. Sure, we know it’s important but come on, with all of the staffing equations and computer software and deadlines, it’s kinda a pain.

That’s the obstacle.

But here’s the opportunity. Your master schedule is one of the most powerful ways you have to realize your vision, live out your core values, and keep your school on mission.

So today, we’re going to talk about how you can transform your master scheduling process from a chore into a powerfully meaningful process that helps you live out your vision, mission, and core values, and that re-create your school culture and keep everyone focused on your school goals.

By the time you’re finished with this episode, you’ll know exactly how to rock your master schedule #likeabuilder.

But before we dive in,

Let’s talk about Builder’s Lab for a second.

If you’re frustrated because you’re working with a teacher or group of teachers who seem to be getting in the way of your achieving your goals THIS school year, then you need to come to Builder’s Lab and here’s why.

If you are going to move your school, you have to move the people in it. Period. And there are really only four ways you can successfully move people forward and that’s through either feedback, support, accountability, or culture. I call these the 4 disciplines of Buildership.

Well, at Builder’s Lab 2019 we’re going to spend the first 2 days learning how to apply these 4 disciplines to get everyone in your school moving consistently and willingly toward your school goals -- even that teacher who usually fights you every step of the way or that teacher who struggles so badly in the classroom that you’ve already given up.

At Builder’s Lab 2019, you’re going to learn how to leverage feedback, support, accountability, and culture to get EVERYONE moving. Then, on day 3 of Builder’s Lab, you’re going to develop a 90-day plan to take everything that you’ve learned and put it into action so that you can get your people moving THIS YEAR.

So here’s what you need to do. Go to and get your tickets today, right now, and then get ready to discover how to get everyone who works in your school or district on board and working together towards your school goals. That’s and I’ll also put a link in the show notes.

Okay. Let's talk master schedules.

You know, I'll be honest with you,...

I debated a long time about whether or not I was even going to do show a master schedules. It's something that we do to support our coaching clients because a lot of times when I walk into a school and they tell me what their school core values, mission and vision are, I say, okay, let me see your master schedule and I can tell very, very quickly whether or not those core values, vision and mission are alive and that school based on looking at a school's master schedule.

It's a litmus test, but you know, it's not a sexy topic. You know, are people really gonna want to listen to a podcast about it? And you know, a lot of what we do with our clients is we help get everything in their school aligned so we start out with their core values, their mission and their vision, and then we look at all the aspects of their school culture and make sure that everything that they're doing is aligned with that. And so we have a very kind of step by step process. We take them through to help them with their whole master scheduling process. And originally I thought, well maybe I'll do a podcast about that because it's really powerful, but it's really hard to translate into a podcast. And if you go through the steps in the process and you don't have a different kind of master scheduling mindset, then that process is not going to serve you very well.

So what I decided to do today is instead of talking about the step by step, month by month activities that you need to be doing for your master schedule, I thought what I would do is I would share with you three big mindset shifts that we have to make around our master schedule. In order to make that process more powerful and meaningful in our schools, so let's start with the first mindset shift and that's this.

Your master schedule is not created by one person. 

Your master schedule is crafted by an entire team and what do I mean by that? You say a lot of people assign the master schedule to a single person. You lock them in a room and they crank out the master schedule and if you're that person you have my biggest sympathies or principals take on the master schedule entirely by themselves and they squeeze it in when they have time.

Very rarely is the master scheduling process seen as a team effort and so I want to talk to you briefly about what I mean by a team effort. I'm not suggesting that you only have a master scheduling team where you have a master scheduler and a backup and maybe your, you know, resource guidance counselor, your head guidance counselor. Know what I'm talking about with the master scheduling team is that you involve your entire leadership team in the master scheduling process, which means that you're going to include not just your master scheduler and your backup master scheduler and your head guidance counselor, but all of the guidance counselors and your school. If there's more than one and all of your team leaders and slash or department chairs, they are all a part of that master scheduling conversation. what I used to do when I was the master scheduler is I would schedule a master scheduling retreat.

I know it sounds superfluous, but hear me out. I would pay for subs for half a day and I would take people either offsite or we had to go to the bowels of our school and to the forgotten recesses of our school and that room and we locked the door and we pretend that we were away and we tell the main office, we are not here and for a half a day we would sit down and we would hash out the guiding principles of our master's schedule. that meant that as a team we would revisit our core values, our vision, and our mission and we would talk about what does that mean in terms of the kind of school that we are trying to build. We'd revisit the strategic plan that we created over the summer and start to say, is this still true now that we're halfway through the school year?

What are things that need to be addressed? 

What are the issues that are coming up that, that we may not think about over the summer, but we need to be thinking about right now while we're in the midst of this work so that we can shape a master schedule that is more aligned with our core values, our mission, and our vision. And so that's how we did that process. And we also kind of hashed out a decision tree. So you know, a lot of times the math department would make a, a, an impassioned case for awhile. We need why we need to have certain math classes that first period and that they needed to have the last period of the day off or planning. Or you might have a sixth grade team make an impassioned plea for why they needed the master schedule to look a certain way so that they could do more interdisciplinary lessons or whatever.

Everybody had their own silos and their own agendas because it was based on what they were doing in the school and if you don't have that meeting and who don't bring everybody to the table, those individual agendas begin to drive your master schedule and they also drive people satisfaction with your master schedule.

People look at the master schedule and they determined this is a good or bad schedule based only on their lens, their perspective. 

But when you have that master scheduling retreat where you get everybody around the table, then you can talk about everybody's perspective. You can hear out everybody, everybody else can hear everybody else's perspective and then you walk out of that meeting in agreement. These are the priorities for our master schedule this year. I remember the first year I did it, everybody came to the table with their individual, you know, kind of needs and agendas.

They were ready to make a case for it and we walked out of that meeting with everybody agreed around how we were going to do the master schedule that the master schedule, what's going to be driven by our core values, vision and mission. So when I put out the first version of the master schedule to the team, later on that year, people weren't giving me the stink eye because their particular need wasn't fulfilled with my master schedule. They didn't get their first period off or they have a class at this time when they know that, when, when I know that that's, you know, the time where they usually kind of lag and really need coffee and you know, all of the things that kind of normally drove their dissatisfaction. They weren't there anymore because it was very clear that the master schedule aligned with our vision, mission and core values.

And in fact I could make that case for the master schedule. And even if people weren't personally excited about the master schedule, they could support it because they could see that alignment. So creating that master scheduling team, getting everybody involved in, in deciding about what is the decision filter that we're going to use to make decisions around our master schedule can not only help create a master schedule that is in alignment with your core values, vision and mission, but it can also create a master schedule that everybody understands and can support. So that's the first step.

The second mindset shift that we need to make is that we need to let our core values, vision and mission drive our schedule.

The second mindset shift that we need to make as we're thinking about our master schedules, is that we need to let our core values, vision and mission drive our schedule, not our staffing formulas, not all the other things that normally drive our master schedule, and that may mean that you have to blow up your master schedule, especially if you find that it's not in alignment.

We often, when we go in and we're doing consulting with some of our school clients, a lot of times we go in and we ask them their core values, vision and mission, and then we asked to see their bachelor schedule and it's so out of alignment that we have to just blow up the master schedule and start all over again. So it's a different way of approaching your, your master schedule. most of us approach our master schedules. We had a staffing formula. We look at the staff, we have on hand, we look at what we have to teach, and then we just try to make those numbers work and that's why doing the master schedule can feel so tedious. But when you think about the master schedule differently, when you think about this is the most tangible expression of our core values, vision and mission, it changes how you do the master schedule.

I used to keep the master scheduling board. We had a magnetic board. I kept it in my office and I kept it right across from my desk so that every time I sat down at my desk I could look at that master scheduling board and it would remind me about what it was we were trying to accomplish in our school.

How many of you can say that about your master schedule?

How many of you can look at your master schedule and see what it is you are trying to accomplish as a school laid out in your master schedule? 

Just by looking at what classes you're offering, when who's teaching what, what your scheduling configuration looks like, how many of you can see your core values, your vision, and your mission in your master schedule. If the answer is that you can't, then now is the time for you to be rethinking your master scheduling process.

Some of you are going to say, well, we don't have core values or core values are there on the wall, but they're not kind of, you know, they don't apply anymore. Well, I want to encourage you to go back and listen to an episode. I'll link to it in the show notes, the episode we did on core values as non negotiables and how you can turn your core values into non negotiables. Because if you do that, if you go through that process and make your whore values non negotiables, a lot of the decisions that you make become a lot more obvious and clear and defensible because your core values have become something that's that, that that's really alive in your school and that extends to your master schedule. What we often do is when we sit down and write the master schedule, we don't use as our first filter, what are our core values?

What's our vision, what's our mission when we're making decisions? Let me give you an example so you know exactly what I mean. I remember when I was the master scheduler, one of our big visions for our school was that we really want it to be true to a middle school model and that meant that we want kids to feel nurtured, that we wanted kids to to to be in community with each other. We had a very large middle school and we didn't want any kid to get lost, so we were trying to figure out how to do that in. One of the things that is an outgrowth of that core value was that we wanted to make sure that our kids were purely teamed. Now that made it harder because we had some kids in seventh grade who are taking algebra, which meant that they were going to have to take algebra from a different team than than there were in seventh grade and the seventh grade math teachers didn't teach algebra and there were all of these issues around that.

But we kept coming back to how can we keep our kids as purely teamed as possible. And so it created a bigger puzzle for us because we couldn't just kind of throw kids wherever they fit in the master scheduling matrix. We had To be very deliberate about decisions about our kids. But guess what, when we kept to that, we had fewer discipline problems throughout the year. We had kids who were thriving and middle school we had lots more collaboration and buy in from the teachers because they were sharing the same kids. Um, I knew my kids better because when I would go to a team meeting, I knew which kids were on the team. So even though I had a ton of kids in the school, I got to know them on a more personal level because they were purely teams. All of these things happened as a result of making sure that our master schedule was driven by our core values, our mission, and our vision.

If we hadn't done that, it would've been a lot harder to live out our core values, vision and mission throughout the year because our master schedule actually worked against our core values rather than supporting it. So it's really, really important. Yes, it's more of a headache, but guess what? It makes the master scheduling process a lot more meaningful. It's not just about throwing kids into slots in order to fill up all the slots. It's now about tangibly arranging things in a way that's going to support and your core values, your vision and your mission and in a way that's going to be meaningful for kids. And I'll tell you what, even though it made, it made the master scheduling process a little bit more difficult because we had to make a lot more meaningful decisions. The guidAnce counselors and I were way more engaged in the process and we still finished ahead of time because that system really kind of drove us to find solutions in our master schedule.

In fact, the year that we started doing it this way, we were number one in a very large school district for getting in our master scheduling of our master schedule into the central office and into the computer on time. And by the time the kids left, we were probably 90, 95 percent, um, you know, straight with our master schedule. And then the last five percent we had scheduled those kids and we started the year very, very strongly because our master schedule was supporting the thing that we were trying to do for our students. So first, make sure that you create a master scheduling team. Second, let your core values vision and mission drive your master schedule. And here's my third mindset shift.

We need to make the master scheduling process a year round process. 

A lot of people go through the first half of the year, look up in december and say, oh shoot.

We have to do some articulation, let it go january. They scrambled to kind of do some things. Then testing happens and we get really busy and then we think, okay, well I'll finish the master's schedule after the teachers leave and then our master schedule is ad hoc last minute, incomplete, shotty, sloppy, and it's a mess. Instead you need to be thinking about your master schedule as a year long process. One of the things that we do with the the schools that we consultant or coach in is that we give them a calendar breakdown so that every single month they know this is what we need to be doing to work on our master schedule for this month. So your masTer scheduling process doesn't begin and end. It is consistently happening all throughout the school year. I told you about how in my office I kept the master schedule on the wall opposite of my desk.

We didn't put it in a conference room somewhere. It was on my wall and all year long as we're working through the school year, we're seeing what needs to be tweaked on our master schedule and I'm keeping a running list so when we have that master scheduling meeting sometime in the fall, usually in october and november, we all ready have a list of things that need to be tweaked with the master schedule, things that are working, things that we need to be doing, more of, things that we need to be doing less up and so we can get our mattress schedule in on time, which affects our staffing, which affects who we hire in the spring. You know, if you're a master schedule isn't at least partially completed by the time hiring season happens, then you. How do you know you're hiring the right people because you don't even know who you need yet.

If your master schedule isn't at least partially completed before teachers leave, how can you give teachers a good clue about what there'll be teaching when they retire and so the teachers have the summer to really adjust and think about their students and come back and be ready to hit the ground running. If you don't have your master schedule at least mostly complete before kids leave, how do you know how to counsel kids and direct kids and prepare kids for the following year where you're not even sure what it is they're going to be taking, so it's a year round process. It's not something that you can put off and do and just get out of the way. It is something you are constantly thinking about all throughout the year. It is something that you are working on specifically every single month because you can't treat your master schedule like a task that needs to be done.

You have to treat it like an integral part of your strategic planning process. 

What is it that we want to accomplish this year?
What is it we want to accomplish next year?
How do we arrange our schedule to best accomplish that?

By the time you sit down and develop your strategic plan in the summer, you've already completed your master schedule and so you're constrained by the decisions that you made the year before and that's really, really backwards. Well you want to do is if your master schedule is a constant part of the conversation and it's a constant part of the process. When you make strategic plans, your strategic planning piece doesn't just start in the summer. It started the year before during the school year while you were still thinking about your master schedule, you created a master schedule that was directly aligned with and that directly support the strategic plan you have for the year.

We do them backwards. We do the master schedule during the school year. We did the strategic plan after the mattress schedule is already complete and then we're constrained by that. Why wouldn't we start strategic planning as a part of the master scheduling process so that we can create a schedule that supports the goals that we're trying to reach for our school. And I guess that's the point of this whole season, really.

You know, a lot of obstacles that we currently face in our schools can be fixed with the master schedule.

The decisions that you make right now regarding your master schedule will determine what you do next year and how well you do it.

That means that if you take time now to set up your master schedule the right way, a way that aligns with your core values and mission and vision, then you can eliminate a lot of the headaches you might normally face next year.

Let me give you an example. One of my clients had been struggling for years to get more students into honors and AP courses but their enrollment was stalled. When we looked at the master schedule, we found that the way that the honors and AP courses were scheduled, students could only take one or at the most two per year. Why? Because all the honors and AP courses where scheduled for the same periods in the day meaning that if a student took AP literature, they could not take AP calculus because the courses were taught at the same time. We made a few simple tweaks to the master schedule and AP and honors enrollment immediately went up.

Another one of my clients struggled to get teachers to do reteaching and retesting. Teachers were committed to the process intellectually but couldn’t find enough time in the school day to make it happen. They were left with the only alternative of doing it after school or before school or not at all. We tweaked their master schedule and found an extra 30 minutes in the day where their teachers could work with students to reteach and reassess DURING the school day and guess what? That school is not fully committed to and successfully implementing a reteaching and reassessment program.

Here’s my point. A lot of the obstacles that you are currently facing in your instructional program are a direct result of your master schedule. The better your master schedule aligns with your school core values, mission, and vision, the fewer obstacles you will face in realizing your core values, mission, and vision next year.

It’s that simple.

You know, all season long, we’ve been talking about turning your biggest obstacles into your biggest opportunities, so it is fitting in a way that we end the season talking about your master schedule because your master schedule presents a very good example of why so many of our obstacles exist in the first place.

You see, a lot of our obstacles are actually created or at least enabled by us. Think about some of the obstacles we’ve discussed this season --

  • The obstacle of unfocused meetings and lost momentum towards school goals.
  • The obstacle of teacher resistance.
  • The obstacle of teachers not implementing our feedback.
  • The obstacle of overwhelm and burnout.
  • The obstacle of stalled initiatives

You wanna know what all these obstacles have in common? All these obstacles are PREVENTABLE.

Therein lies the opportunity. The obstacle tells you that something isn’t working. Once you realize it isn’t working, you have the opportunity to make it different and make it better.

That’s why next season, I’m going to shift gears a little and talk about specific ways you can set yourself up for success from the beginning so that you don’t face as many obstacles in the first place. The idea here is that the better you are at creating and putting into place systems that set you up for success, the less time you spend putting out fires and the more time you spend building your school or district.

Because after all, that’s what Builder’s do. They build. And it’s hard to build if you are too busy putting out fires, or tending an antiquated system that no longer reflects your core values and mission and vision.

If you’re going to be a Builder, if you’re going to BUILD an amazing school or school district that truly reflects your core values, mission, and vision, then it’s not enough to overcome obstacles. You’ve got to eliminate them.

So enjoy your holiday break, relax and rest up. Because next seasion, you’re going to learn how to set yourself up for success #LikeABuilder.

Now, before we go, 

Don’t forget to get your ticket to Builder’s Lab 2019. If you want to find out how to get your people on board and moving so that you can still reach your goals THIS year, even the resistant nay-sayers or the people who are just plain stuck, then you need to come to Builder’s Lab 2019. Just go to and get your ticket now.

Next week...

We’re going to take a few weeks off to enjoy the holidays and rest up. We’ll be back in mid-January with a whole new season of School Leadership Reimagined. In the meantime, you can do two things. One, you can catch up on past episodes by going to School Leadership Plus we’ve got transcripts and show notes and a few free downloads there for you as well.

The other thing you can do and it would be a HUGE favor to me, is that you can share this podcast with others. Tweet about your favorite episode. Share your favorite tip you’ve learned from one of the episodes on Linked in. And for goodness sakes, make sure that WE are connected on Linked in. Let’s get the word out to others and invite them to join us in our tribe of Builders.

Finally, I want to take some time to thank you. Thank you for spending time with me each week and inviting me to join you on your drive to work, or on your workout, or while you’re cooking dinner. Thank you for being such an amazing tribe of builders. And most of all, thank you for the work you are doing for students everywhere. Now go and enjoy the break #likeabuilder.

Bye for now. See you next time. 

Thank you for listening to the School Leadership Reimagined podcast for show notes and free downloads visit

School Leadership Reimagined is brought to you by Mindsteps Inc, where we build a master teachers.