vintage Chalkboard with words,"Self-Contained Schedule Series: Part 1 How to Create a Schedule

Eight Tips to Create a Daily Schedule

May 18, 2019 18 min read

Part 1 of the Series: Self-Contained Schedules

This episode is the first in a series all about schedules. Lisa Goodell gives eight tips to help you create a daily schedule for your self-contained special ed classroom. She discusses how to plan everything out, what information is helpful to know ahead of time. She touches on inclusion/mainstreaming into general ed classes, teaching routines/expectations, planning ahead for future students and more. Be sure to check out the show notes below to check out the sample schedule for this week. It will be easier to follow along if you have the sample schedule she is talking about in front of you.

Click here to get the packet with handouts on all three episodes. They include all the schedules discussed.

To read a transcript of this episode, “Eight Tips to Create a Daily Schedule” scroll to the bottom of the page.

Episode Show Notes

Links and Resources

General Schedule

Podcast Host: Lisa Goodell

Lisa Goodell, M. A., launched the Help for Special Educators podcast on April 1, 2019. She has been teaching for over 23 years, including third grade, resource/inclusion (RSP), and mild/moderate self-contained (SDC). Currently, she is an itinerant orthopedic impairment (OI) specialist/teacher for students birth to 21 years old in all general ed and special ed settings. She has been honored as “Teacher of the Year” at both the elementary and secondary levels. Lisa has a master’s degree in Special Education and six special ed and general ed teaching credentials. She lives in rural Central California with her family and a bunch of cats. Connect online with Lisa here.


NOTE: An artificial intelligence (AI) transcription service converted the audio file of this podcast episode into the written words below. The file is mostly accurate, however, be aware that spoken words and conversations are not the same as a conversation in a news story or novel. This means that there will be some inaccuracies or accidental errors (i.e. missing punctuation and words, misspellings, etc.). Thank you for understanding.

Lisa Goodell (00:11):

Do you ever find yourself barely able to hold your head above water? Waves of IEPs, data collection, assessments, parent conferences, not to mention lesson plans and seasonal activities are all crashing around you. You need help but not just from anybody. Grab the lifeline that is the Help for Special Educators Podcast. We will equip you with creative solutions and teacher-tested strategies so you can navigate the rewarding but difficult job as a special ed teacher. This is Lisa Goodell, your host.

Create a Daily Schedule Lisa Goodell (00:50):

Welcome to this episode of the “Help for Special Educators” podcast. Today you’re just going to get me, Lisa Goodell, your host, and what I want to talk about today is working on your daily schedule for the school year. I don’t know if you agree with me, but I have found that determining the daily schedule is definitely one of the hardest things about classroom management and organizing everything before the beginning of the school year, especially in special ed when you have students with very individualized needs that you need to serve. Scheduling always seemed easier when I taught upper grades since students typically change classes throughout the day and they were already given their schedule by the office. In fact, teachers only had to worry about lesson plans within each period because the school would give them a master schedule of what classes they were teaching each period of the day. However, I taught special ed at the elementary level for a long time and I found my schedule had to change multiple times a year.

Lisa Goodell (01:49):

And this was both when I taught in the self contained environment and also when I was more of a resource teacher working with students in general ed. I know this can be really intimidating for new teachers so today I want to give you some tips about things I’ve learned. These things may or may not apply to your specific situation but I just offer them like a brainstorming session. And so hopefully there will be some things that you can take and will be really helpful to you and maybe there’s things that don’t apply and then you don’t have to worry about those things. So let’s get started.

New Speaker (02:21):

Tip Number One, don’t expect to have the perfect schedule on the first day of school. Even now, I’ve been teaching 24 years… I have learned to hold the schedule very loosely because there will always be changes that come up. However, you still need to have some kind of schedule when you get started the first day or the first week of school. I just find that it’s better that I expect that it will change and then I can prepare my paraprofessionals or my aides for that change and especially I can prepare my students for the change that things don’t always stay the same… Because it does definitely get frustrating when that happens.

Lisa Goodell (02:59):

For example, when you teach self contained, your students probably need to go into a general ed classroom for part of the day. Some places say get your schedule going, work with your students for several weeks or even a month, and then start having them go to the general ed class. Well, I found that there was always push-back from both students and teachers when I had to do it this way, so I’d always try to get my students to go into their inclusion classrooms the first day of school if possible.

Lisa Goodell (03:27):

Let’s go on to Tip Number Two. What to work on before you even start to make your schedule. This is kind of like doing some homework ahead of time. If you’re a brand new teacher, you may not be able to have all this information to begin with, but I want you to do the very best that you can. Okay, so you need to find out what grades the students are that will be in your class and you need to know all the services they have, like if they have occupational therapy or speech or things like that. Also, do they need help when they’re outside of your class? Like do they need a pair of professional helping them get on and off the bus? Or do they need help in the cafeteria or with toileting? And if you can find out when they will be going to their inclusion or general ed class.

Lisa Goodell (04:11):

The other part of what you should do before you make your schedule is to figure out some basic times that cannot be changed. These would be times from the school like what time are kids allowed on campus? When is the first bell, when is the Tardy Bell, when is recess, when is lunch, when is school dismissal? Those types of things that don’t change. So you’re going to put those in your schedule first. Then you have to decide what you’re going to do during the time that everyone is in class and you should also find out if there is any specific duties that your para professionals will have or that you will have as far as yard duty, helping with cafeteria, any of those types of things that you or your parents might have. It’s good to know that ahead of time too so you can build that into the schedule.

Lisa Goodell (04:56):

Okay. The next tip,Tip Number Three, make a rough draft schedule with the information you have. Okay, so I want you to write up the schedule. Start with what I said before, the class times, recess, break lunch, all that kind of stuff. And what I do is in a Word document, I make a table and I only have one line per row. I don’t have any columns for this first general schedule that I make, and you can do this in Google docs too, I’m sure. Oh, before I forget, I should also stop and tell you that there will be a link to visuals of the schedules I’m talking about if you go to the show notes for my podcast, which is at So you might want to pause this until you can go bring up the visuals on your laptop or phone or even print them out and then come back and continue listening to this episode.

Help for Special Educators Podcast

Lisa Goodell (05:49):

And I also have a resource on Teacher Pay Teachers where I have all of my schedules in editable form in Microsoft Word in there. You can go in there and you don’t even have to reinvent the wheel. You can just get started with what’s there. Take out the stuff that doesn’t apply, add your own stuff. You can change the sizes of the boxes and all that kind of stuff. But if you are really good at the computer, you might not need it to be editable. Maybe you just want to look at the samples. Then you can just go to my blog series on this topic and you can look at my samples and then that will help you get started. Because one thing about this, this is hard to talk about when it’s so visual in this audio form.

Lisa Goodell (06:28):

Okay, so getting back to our rough draft, you’re going to start with a series of rows in your chart. Each row will be a different time and what’s going on. The first row might say 7:30am to 8:00am yard duty. The next row might say 8:00 first bell rings and then the next row I might have the time for the beginning of school, and then the next couple of rows you can just leave them blank for now, but maybe you’re going to have groups. That’s going to be class time. Then after that you should put something for recess or break. And then next put a few more rows again for groups or planning what you’re doing during class time. Then in the next box you can have the time that everyone goes to lunch. Now you may have students that go to lunch at different times depending on what grade they’re in and so you’ll want to get that in there, put all of that information in.

Lisa Goodell (07:20):

Then after lunch you want to have again, some more rows for you to put in what you’re going to do after lunch. And then at the end of the day you need to have the information about when students need to go to buses. You’ll need to figure out who is going to buses, who is walking home, who’s getting picked up by parents, et cetera. And so I always try to have that right there in my schedule too so I don’t lose that information.

Lisa Goodell (07:43):

Tip Number Four, planned for groups. This is where you really get down into the nitty-gritty and you need to decide what you’re going to be doing during class. Now if you only have one or two grade levels and the kids all seem to be around the same level, perhaps you can do more things whole class. For myself, I was only able to do that one year when I had self contained and I could only do it part of the day.

Lisa Goodell (08:07):

So I really encourage people to look at having groups that students rotate around to, especially if you have more adults in your classroom and each adult can take a group. For myself, I had me and two paras, so there were three adults in the room. Some years I had eight students and by the end of the year I’d have probably 11 or 12, but then other years it would just get more and more. One year I started with 15 students and I ended the year with 20! And it was still just me and my two paras. And also find out your paras, work schedule, what time do they start, what time do they end, because that really affects things. One year I had two part-time aides and the end of their duty day was like an hour and a half before school ended for the students. So that last part of the day was just me and all my students so I could not do groups during that time.

Lisa Goodell (08:56):

So during group time you might want to have students rotating around where they are not ever doing anything independently. They’re only coming to groups with adults on this works well if you have a smaller class, if you have a larger class that becomes more difficult because we are supposed to be giving individualized instruction and you do want to have those groups as small as possible. So sometimes I would just have three adults and then I would have three groups the kids rotated around.

Lisa Goodell (09:23):

Other years I would have the three adult groups but then I would also add other groups where kids were working independently. Maybe they were working on technology, maybe they were working at their desk. Then other years I spread it all out so we had groups all day long and sometimes they would be going to each group just one time during the whole day. And other times they would rotate through a group of stations before recess. Then we’d have another group of stations after recess and sometimes we might even have more stations at the end of the day. So it just depends on how it works out for you.

Lisa Goodell (10:02):

Tip Number Five, plan your schedule like you have an extra four students. To me this is important and I wish I would’ve known this earlier in my career. I did not figure this out until the fourth year that I was in a self contained classroom. So even if you start the year out with eight students, when you plan the schedule, pretend like you have 12 so it will be easier when a new student arrives. And what I mean by this is if you are all set in your groups and you… Say you have three to a group, then you get all these new students, you’re going to have to break it up so you have more groups so that you have less students in each group because again, you want to individualize.

Lisa Goodell (10:40):

So if you just plan on having more to begin with, but maybe there’s less than a group, maybe you only have one person in a group for a while. Then when a new student comes, they can just join that one person who’s in a group by themselves and you don’t have to change the times and what’s happening in each group.

Lisa Goodell (10:56):

Tip Number Six, make a tentative schedule for the first couple of days of school and then the rest of the week. When I designed my very first day of school, I want the kids with adults at all times, so I’m not going to have all the independent centers and all of that to begin with. So schedule how you want things to happen the first couple of days and then you might expand upon that after the first week. Now for me, we always went to school with students Thursday, and Friday, so I would plan those two days and then the next week.

Lisa Goodell (11:26):

But if you have students starting right on a Monday, maybe you want to have a modified schedule Monday and Tuesday and then you change it a little for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Again, you’re all smart people. You can adapt this for what works with your district’s calendar.

Lisa Goodell (11:41):

Tip Number Seven, focus on teaching routines and expectations. Let the academics come later. Okay, so I’ve always used centers and stations in my multi-grade class, so I start teaching the expectations and routines for those groups right away except instead of jumping in and doing academics, we do fun stuff: We do games, we do review activities. I teach my routines for how I want them to go, sharpen their pencil, get a drink of water, what to do when they have to go to the bathroom. I teach all of those things in the groups at first, instead of teaching those things whole class (which you might have behavior issues or attention issues,) just teach them in the groups.

Lisa Goodell (12:23):

That means that if I have three groups rotating that I’m going to have to teach that three times, but that’s okay because that’s what you’re going to do during the year if you are going to have stations as a big part of your daily schedule. We usually don’t get into the full schedule with academics until perhaps the third week. Some years it might even be longer. What I found is that the more students that I had in my class, the longer it took. Yeah, so listen to these ideas and again adapt it for what works with your population but just don’t get frustrated when you’re a special ed class isn’t settling down into the routines as fast as the general ed classes because they are going to definitely need more time.

Lisa Goodell (13:00):

Okay. Next tip. Tip Number Eight planned for interruptions. You heard me just expect interruptions to happen and then they won’t be so frustrating. Especially if we’re focused on the first couple of days of school there’s going to be special events. Then there might be a back to school welcome back assembly. There might be schoolwide positive behavior training events.

Lisa Goodell (13:22):

My least favorite is when the paraprofessionals’ first day of work is on the first day of school and so they come into your class for about 10 minutes as the students are coming into class as well, and then they have to leave to go to a meeting for their own training that might last up to an hour, and then you are in your class with your kids all by yourself. So that throws everything off as far as trying to get routines established, introduce rules and that type of thing when your paraprofessionals aren’t even there. And they actually need to hear all of that as well because if that’s their first day of school and if they’re new to your classroom! This is one of the many reasons why a special ed teachers learn to be flexible.

Lisa Goodell (14:04):

Even if you have the perfect lesson plan, always be aware that you’re going to need a plan B or even a plan C when paraprofessionals are sick and they aren’t able to get a substitute or when there’s special events or an emergency that might happen. All I can say is that I love Go Noodle more than words can express and if you don’t know what go noodle is, go to the link I provide and the show notes go noodle and going to the computer lab has totally saved the kids’ sanity and my own sanity on numerous occasions.

Lisa Goodell (14:35):

Okay. So I’ve gone over all the tips, but I want to give a little more detail on this last one. As far as interruptions, and I want to give an example, a real life story of something that happened in my classroom. After routines had been established, maybe October or November, we had to stop in the middle of groups to go to an assembly and I wasn’t sure how long assembly would last, but it ends up that we came back into class about 10 minutes before recess.

Lisa Goodell (14:56):

So since we missed two of the groups, I thought we would just go to one more group and skip the others. And so we tried it and after recess we were going to go onto the next activity. However, when the kids came in from recess, they insisted on going back and finishing the groups that we had skipped when we were in the assembly. A few were even ready to have meltdowns over it, and so I quickly realized what had actually happened.

Lisa Goodell (15:22):

The problem was I was thinking about it from the teacher’s perspective. I wasn’t thinking about the effects of this from the kids’ perspective. So thinking about it from the kids’ perspective: kids usually love getting out of class to attend an assembly, but they hate missing their favorite center or group such as computers or coloring.

Lisa Goodell (15:42):

However, from the teacher’s perspective, the most important centers are the ones that they’re doing with the adults: The teacher time, the time that we are giving direct instruction on reading, on math, on writing. I wasn’t as worried if the kids missed the independent time, but I had to think like a kid and realize that for them they wanted to do that computer time, even if it was only for a couple of minutes. So what I ended up doing the next time we had an interruption in our schedule for an assembly was this: I looked ahead and I shortened all the groups to seven to 10 minutes. First of all, we would get through more of the groups before the assembly. I didn’t want to get through all of them because what if the assembly was done early? Then after the assembly we came back to class. I looked at how much time was left before recess and then I just divided that time by how many groups were left. And this way kids still got to go to their group even if it was only for like one or two minutes.

Lisa Goodell (16:37):

And that sounds crazy too, but I tell you, it saved me from a lot of meltdowns because at least they got to go and do their favorite thing. And for the kids that really like the routine going to each group physically helps them and it helps their anxiety level and all of that. And so that was another reason why we did that. And it definitely helped me avoid tantrums in this particular situation in the rest of the years when I taught in self contained classes. And also, then when you come back after recess, you’re done with that part of your day. You don’t have to make up anything from before recess and then you can just continue with your day… With your daily schedule, which again is really good for kids that get anxious.

Lisa Goodell (17:17):

So as I wrap up this episode, let me review all the steps that we went over to help you create a daily schedule:

Lisa Goodell (17:25):

Tip Number One, don’t expect to have a perfect schedule on the first day of school.

Tip number two, what to work on before even starting to make a schedule.

Tip number three, make a rough draft schedule with the information you have to start off with.

Tip number four, then start planning for groups.

Tip Number Five, plan your schedule like you have four extra students. Then when that new student comes, it will make it easier on yourself and your class.

Tip number six, make a tentative schedule for the first couple of days of school, then the rest of the week.

Tip number seven, focus on teaching routines and expectations. Academics can come later and…

Tip number eight, plan for interruptions because they will happen.

Lisa Goodell (18:10):

So I hope that this has given you some ideas to think about as you begin to plan your schedule for next year. I’m going to continue this series on self contained schedules. Next week I’m going to talk about getting into the nitty gritty of the first two days of school and then the first week of school. I want to give more examples of how I create my schedule and move into a master schedule for the rest of the year.

Music (18:49): [Theme music]

Lisa Goodell (18:49):

Now when I start to get stressed or overwhelmed about school stuff, I find it helps to take a moment to slow down, stop and focus on my breathing. Sometimes I also might say the Serenity Prayer aloud or in my head, here it is: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. I might also add a few of my own words. Here’s the sample for us special educators: Help us to listen and truly understand our students. Please give us words, actions, and solutions, which will help in difficult situations. May our classrooms be peaceful places where teachers, staff, and students learn and thrive. After that, I try to go out and find someone else to help because helping others keeps me from selfishly dwelling on my own problems.

Lisa Goodell (19:54):

Thank you so much for listening and I hope you heard something helpful during this episode that you can implement in your teaching. Remember, you are amazing! What you do makes a difference and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Go find someone else to encourage because they probably need to be reminded that they are amazing, too.

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