How to Create Special Education Student Schedules

life skills special education teachers teacher experience transition Jul 01, 2022
Creating Student Special Education Schedules

To Do: Create Schedule


It’s the thing that lingers on a special education teacher's to-do list and weighs on you all summer because it is NEVER just a one-and-done sort of thing. The first student schedule draft will take you a few hours and you’ll hesitate to even remove the task from your to-do list because you just know. You will probably make a few more drafts in Google Drive, as the beginning of the year nears, and share another 10-30+ draft schedules between your special educators over the course of a school year. The sheer mental capacity it takes to even develop draft schedule #1 is complex, and all subsequent drafts will cause you to stress with a side of annoyance.

As someone who has drafted more schedules than I care to admit, I’ve developed an approach that I hope will help you as your brain begins to navigate the many intricacies of creating student and teaching schedules.


A little background about my teaching experience...

I taught high school special education and my period-by-period schedule was handed to me in the late spring of the prior school year.  The high school building operated on a daily schedule and I spent my time between co-teaching in the general education classroom and the self-contained classroom.  My student caseload, at the time, was serving those students who were already plugged into traditional scheduled classes.  It wasn't until I started teaching transition (which is so great that I'll never go back to teaching high school), that I was expected to put together the puzzle with 100s of moving parts.  I'm thankful to have a strong teacher union.  Daily prep time in my own schedule was not just a priority but an absolute must.  That, along with all the other moving parts I list below under What to Consider, makes scheduling a school day anything but easy!  


I'm starting with the biggest shift in the scheduling process, at least for me: moving from daily to weekly scheduling.  



Daily Classroom Schedule vs Weekly Schedule

In my program, we create weekly schedules. So, every Monday looks the same, but Tuesdays look different.  This is ideal for transition programs, because you can give different classes different times and dedicate longer spans of time to a single activity, as long as you aren’t confined to a bell schedule.


IF you are still held to a bell schedule, don’t stop reading. Many of the tips and considerations below will still apply. Just know that you may not have the same time flexibility when creating your schedule. *I realize how loaded that previous sentence is.  


What to Consider

I could share the schedules of my past 9 years in transition, but you wouldn’t be able to hit ‘copy + paste’ because you would have 1 variable that would create a domino effect of changes (unfortunately). So, I’ve listed below what I’ve considered when creating schedules because we ALL know that if you make 1 wrong assumption, everything will change!


1. IEP Goals

Compile all the IEP goals you need to address and collect data on for your students and determine where and when that skill can be meaningfully addressed.  Planning for this will also help you to determine the best method of data collection, because different settings warrant different collection methods. Hopefully, some students will have common goals, like a few working on similar independent living skills, that you can address during the same class.  This should be 1 of the first things you cross-check when creating a schedule- Are all the student’s IEP goals being addressed?  Curious how I collect IEP Goal data?


*Don’t forget to review BIP’s as well, especially as it relates to working towards rewards and reinforcements. Would those be easily accessible for specific students in your draft schedule?


2. Transportation Availability

If accessing the community is a daily or weekly part of your program, then you will need to know when and or how long you get transportation. Is this school bus transportation? Are there enough seats or wheelchair accessible spots on the school bus transportation? Do you have to access public transportation? What is the schedule and access limitations of the public transportation?


3. Support Staff

How many support staff are slotted for your group or class (according to the IEP and state law)?  Where do you HAVE to have them?  Where would they BEST be placed to support your students?   Don't take this part of scheduling lightly.  Give it careful consideration because finding the right fit for both the students and staff member is very important.  


 4. Related Services Access

Confirm whether related service providers, like speech and occupational therapy, will be in the building on certain days and how they will meet student minutes.  Will they meet a few students in a small group or pull for one-on-one instruction? Therefore, does your whole class need to stay back or would just 1-2 students need to be around? Also, would this impact the student’s ability to access other parts of the schedule where IEP goals may be addressed?


5. Health/Medical and Equipment Needs

If your students have health or medical needs that require them to be around nursing staff at certain times, like a feeding tube during lunch, find out where they need to be when and for how long. Or do you have students who need to access a stander or mat table or alternate seating for a specific length of time? Decide when and where you can fill that need. Consider staggering time slots to meet individual student needs if students will be sharing the same equipment.


6. Space

Whether you teach all one grade level or a variety, use 1 or 5 different special education classrooms, or are walking into a new building at a new school, space is a key factor to your student scheduling process.  Let me be clear, there will be no 'perfect' classroom, but you can hope for 85% happy.  What I've noticed throughout my time in the classroom is the higher the student's needs, the more the physical space mattered.  And, the more your students are out in the community, the less the physical building or classroom matters.  If you have autonomy and spatial options, consider taking a few steps back and look to see if the classroom setting or where students home-base might benefit from a move.  After the shift to teaching transition, it was more common for my program to shift groups to different classrooms based on the incoming student population.  What worked one year didn't always work the next, and variety is the spice of life, right?


On a similar note, consider what visual supports your classroom needs to support the students in moving through their classes and day. 


Google Sheets Schedule Time Trick! 


What Classes to Include in Your Schedule and Estimated Times

If you have the luxury of a no-bell schedule, then you may be happily stressed about how long to schedule for different classes.  Here is an estimate of the time frames I schedule for each class period and the approximate drive times for those that include community-based instruction.


Held in Building

  • Morning Meeting

  • 5 days a week

  • 30-45 minutes


  • Independent Living

  • 1 day per week

  • 30-60 minutes


  • Social Communication
  • 1 day per week

  • 30-45 minutes


  • Vocational Skills
  • 1 day per week

  • 30-45 minutes


  • Lunch
  • 5 days a week
  • 30-60 minutes


  • Cooking
  • 1 day per week

  • 2 hours (review recipe, cook, eat, and clean up)


  • Other: Recreational therapies, Technology, Student Small Business, End of the Day Wrap-Up Responsibilities (like classroom chores)



Community Based 

  • Community Based Vocational Education

  • 2-3 times per week

  • 2.5 hours

  • 15 min drive, work 2 hours, 15 min drive back


  • Fitness Center w/ locker room and shower
  • 2-3 times per week

  • 2 hours

  • 15 min drive 1 way


  • Bank and Grocery Shop

  • 1 time per week

  • 2 hours

  • 10 min drive to bank, 10 min drive to grocery store, 10 min drive back to building, remaining time for pre-outing lesson, practice at the bank, and shopping and check out in the store, putting away food and items after shopping

  • *I’ve had grocery shopping the day(s) before cooking class, the same day as cooking class, and day(s) after cooking class where we prepped for the following week. You do what works!


  • Community Based Experience

  • 1 day per week

  • 3-4 hours

  • Varies based on outing activity, time for lunch at a restaurant)


What to Teach

If you are nearing the feeling of 'I know when everything is getting covered!' then you are probably inching closer to the next step,' Now, what am I going to teach?'  Draft 1 of the master schedule creation process is firming up and you're beginning to map out the overall class schedule and think through lesson plans.  I wrote all about this in the follow-up to this blog post.  So keep reading over at Creating a Schedule for Life Skills: How to Figure Out What to Teach and When to Teach It! 


I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the schedules I create for my group of young adult students will never look the same as yours. We have too many differences in our programs for things ever to look the same, and that’s in large part to the diverse needs of students (aka, the  ‘I’ in IEP). So while this may feel like an overwhelming task that will last the entire school year (because it will), just know that it’s a meaningful task and YOU get the chance to create unique opportunities for your special needs students.





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