Master Schedule Guide Stage 1 – Planning

The initial stage of master scheduling involves planning, design, and a set of preliminary tasks. This is a critical phase, one in which the decisions made and the process followed shape the extent to which the final product — the master schedule itself — is successful.

Collaboration and communication are essential! So, too, are thoughtful process and attention to the values and beliefs that guide the master schedule development work. We strongly advocate for a team approach to master scheduling that is open, inclusive, and transparent. We recommend guiding principles for master schedule decisions that place students and student learning at the center, but that also value adult learners. We advise investing your time in Stage 1 (planning) to avoid having to spend too much time in Stage 4 (adjustment).

Stage 1 is decision-rich and may include determinations of school calendars, bell schedules, courses, curriculum, programs of study, staffing priorities, timelines, process, and more in addition to preliminary steps in the master schedule process.

Months 1-5 (typically, August – December)

This content may be downloaded from RESOURCES FOR THIS STAGE on the right.

Note: The stages and steps involved in the master schedule process are not entirely linear. Sometimes multiple aspects of the process are occurring simultaneously; sometimes the Master Schedule Team “loops back” in the process to incorporate new information. District timelines vary. For example, new course proposals might be due for approval as early as October in some districts. This “outline” of the master schedule process is meant to be flexible and adaptable to your local context.

       In addition, we realize that schools may operate on a year round schedule or a trimester schedule or a 75 – 75 – 30 schedule or other variations of school calendars. Or that rather than schedule classes for the entire academic year, some schools repeat the master scheduling process several times each year and schedule courses on a term by term, quarter by quarter, or trimester by trimester basis.  Again, please adjust the master schedule timeline to your own circumstances and needs.

Month 1 and 2
Assemble the Master Schedule Team: School Administration/ Master Schedule Coordinator assembles (or re-assembles, refreshes) the Master Schedule Team; Team determines meeting schedule   (See Stage 1 Resource: “Master Schedule Team” for who needs to be involved and some teaming resources.)

Begin and Maintain a Master Schedule Notebook/Log/Journal: Team begins and maintains a Master Schedule Notebook, Journal, or Log.  The Master Schedule Notebook serves as a repository for recording scheduling data, ideas, insights, decisions, etc. at every stage of the Master Scheduling process. It documents the process and the learning that occurs along the way. NOTE: The Master Schedule Notebook may be maintained in a binder, as a set of folders, or may be maintained in a platform such as Google Drive, on a District/Site website, or elsewhere in the cloud, etc.
In larger school districts, there will often be District guidelines, templates, and resources to support the development, maintenance and use of site-specific Master Schedule Notebook. (See the Master Schedule Notebook section in each of the 5 Stages of the Master Schedule Guide.)

Review of School/District Documents, Policies, and Data. In collaboration with school leadership, the master schedule team conducts a review of:

  • The School and District Vision, Mission, and Graduate Profile;
  • Any policies and data involving information needed for master schedule development;
  • Existing and potential staffing;
  • The bell schedule and school calendar and any district bell schedule and calendar parameters
  • District master schedule expectations, guidelines, timeline, and parameters
  • Site-specific information (school profile, Expected Student Learning Results (ESLRs), Single School Plan for Student Achievement action plan and budget; staff roster and credentials; map of classrooms; other existing and potential instructional facilities)
  • Site-specific student data and student achievement indicators, including:
  • Curriculum:
    • Team reviews the District/site Framework for Learning and Teaching (What is the school’s vision for learning and teaching? How will the master schedule best support this vision?) ; site-specific instructional program (including existing and emerging Pathway Programs of Study, course offerings, instructional priorities)
    • Team works with administration and teachers to determine which courses will be offered in the new schedule (existing courses that will be continued to be offered, existing courses that will be discontinued or “shelved” for the coming year, new course offerings, etc.)
    • Team supports process to develop new course descriptions and to submit any new or revised course offerings for appropriate approvals and inclusion in high school course catalog, programs of study (if appropriate), etc

The Team also researches and reviews:

  • site-specific opportunities, parameters, and constraints that may impact the master schedule.
  • existing and emerging Pathways/ Academies/SLCs and identifies their scheduling preferences, requests, and needs, including interdisciplinary team-teaching needs and common planning time need.
  • existing and emerging Department scheduling preferences, requests, and needs.

The Team determines questions that need to be answered and a process for gathering the information needed to make fair decisions.

  • Master Schedule Team supports/collaborates with Leadership Team and/or School Site Council to make or affirm decisions regarding school vision/mission and pathway programs of study, courses that the school plans to offer, student day, and bell schedule and identifies any changes needed for the following school year:
    • Review and/or Choose Structural Options that best support school’s vision for learning and teaching – Semester 1, Semester 2; Trimesters, A/B or other Rotational, Interdisciplinary, etc.
    • Review/Determine Bell and Lunch Schedules that best support school’s vision for learning and teaching (See over 15 different sets of bell schedule examples in the Bell Schedule sub-section of the All Resources section of this guide)
    • Review of Current Master Schedule and Development Process: Team reviews the current master schedule, last year’s master schedule design and development process, and maps out tasks
  • Team reconsiders what worked for the present school year’s master schedule and master schedule development process. What are the strengths of the current master schedule and its development process? What can be improved upon?
    The Master Schedule Team:

    • Analyzes causes of any real or perceived weaknesses in the master schedule and makes a plan to address these in the new schedule development process.
    • Surveys or meets with SLC leads, department chairs, counselors, teachers and students re effectiveness of the master schedule. Stakeholders help to identify strengths and weaknesses of the schedule and make recommendations to the Master Schedule Team.
    • Provides written report on master schedule process and product to the School Leadership Team
  • Develop Draft of Site-specific Master Schedule Timeline and Master Schedule Development Plan: Team develops a site-specific Master Schedule Timeline and Development Plan/Action Plan.
    • Timeline and Master Schedule Development Plan include all activities which need to occur in the scheduling process; person/s responsible for each of these activities; and dates of completion for each activity. As appropriate, measures of success are also included.
    • Meet with counselors to develop consensus around master schedule process roles and responsibilities
  • Establish Guiding Principles: Team works with faculty and staff (including counselors, registrar, administration, etc.) to establish a set of guiding principles for the Master Schedule. For example:
    • A student-centered, learning-focused approach in which student learning needs and personalization of learning come first
    • An equitable schedule which supports access to challenging courses for all students.
    • A schedule that prioritizes pathways/academies as the way to create the necessary conditions for student success and supports pure student cohorts and common planning time for pathway teaching
    • An inclusive, open, transparent process that incorporates input from all stakeholders
  • Establish Master Schedule Priorities: Team works with faculty and staff (including counselors, registrar, administrators, etc.) to establish priorities for the Master Schedule. For example:
    • Every student enrolled in a college and career pathway that reflects the diversity of the school as a whole
    • To the extent possible, pure student cohorts in pathway courses
    • Time for students to engage in inquiry-based projects and other forms of deeper learning
    • Time for each interdisciplinary teacher team to work as a collaborative community of practice and for teachers to be deeper learners
    • Inclusion of special education students and English Language Learners.
  • Engage faculty and other Stakeholders:
    • Team makes a presentation to administration, faculty, and staff and engages them in a dialogue to agree on guiding principles
    • Team listens to scheduling concerns and develops a process for resolving conflicts and sharing master scheduling decisions
    • Based on input from stakeholders, Team revises, refines and shares Master Schedule Timeline and Master Schedule Development Plan
    • If appropriate – Conduct teacher and student interest surveys

Counselor Sidebar:
Counselors review Senior Credit Analysis Report that are inclusive of credits earned in summer school, etc; Counselors double-check every senior’s credits and current student course enrollments. Counselors make any needed course changes or adjustments so that every senior is “on track” for graduation.

Counselors review Courses Previously Passed reports for grades 9-12 that are inclusive of summer credits earned. Counselors make changes to student schedules as needed. 

Counselors review transcripts for missing or Incomplete grades. Follow up.

Counselors meet with students as needed regarding “credit recovery” options.
Counselors work with students to access Dual Enrollment opportunities. 

  • Team reviews recent history of student enrollment trends, annual District staffing allocations, and first term staffing adjustments based on actual student enrollments  (maintain this information over time in Master Schedule Notebook)
  • Team begins initial staffing discussions (FTEs and staffing ratios) with district office, including data officials
  • (As appropriate) Team either discusses any staffing parameters (class size, # of teaching preparations, etc.) with teacher union representatives or provides written input to the principal that is shared with the District for discussions with the teacher’s union, and other stakeholders.

Months 2-3
Team meets with Principal and other administrators as appropriate to further review current course offerings and to reconsider/double-check any new or emerging course offerings or needs.

Team meets with Pathway/Academy/SLC leads, department heads, and counselors to review the master schedule development plan and to surface any proposed course offerings for the coming year

Pathway/Academy/SLC leads meet with their teams and department heads meet with department faculty to discuss possible course offerings and teaching assignments

Pathways/Academies/SLCs/ departments consider or reconsider possible course changes

Team involves students (and possibly parents) in providing input to proposed course offerings, especially courses for new Pathways/Academies/SLCs

Team involves industry and postsecondary partners in providing input to proposed course offerings, especially courses for Pathways/Academies/SLCs

Team researches and reviews any Site, District, ROP (Regional Occupational Programs), NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) and University (as appropriate) course approval processes

Team supports teachers in the further development of new courses, including course descriptions, outlines, and other course documentation needed for various course approvals.

Months 4-5
Team follows or supports others in following the prescribed process to obtain official approval for any new or revised courses from site and district or other entities such as the Regional Occupations Program, and State University system (as appropriate)

Team follows or supports others in following the prescribed process to update official list of college preparatory and career-technical courses

Team reviews and updates course descriptions and course catalog.  (Consider including flowcharts or other graphic representations of each pathway program of study)

Team decides on format – hard copy, on-line, or both for program of study selection and course selection materials.

Team develops pathway selection and course selection materials (program of study descriptions, course descriptions, program of study and course catalog, registration packet; pathway and elective course choice sheets, FAQs sheet, Directions for the Selection and Registration process, etc.)

Care is taken that registration materials include: graduation requirements, required courses, college-entrance requirements for both 2 and 4 year colleges, courses that meet college entrance requirements (in California, courses that are a-g courses), other (non-college preparatory) elective courses, courses with pre-requisites, etc.

Initial efforts are made to prepare and support all students to make informed choices the pathway program of student selection and course. Care is taken that every student will have a counselor or other adult advocate to provide guidance in the pathway selection and course selection processes.

Advice from the field:  Invest your time in Stage 1 (panning) to avoid having to spend too much time in Stage 4 (adjustments).

This resource was developed by the College and Career Academy Support Network at the Graduate School of Education, University of California.

Beginning the Conversation: Some Master Schedule Questions

This content may be downloaded from RESOURCES FOR THIS STAGE on the right.

“If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts, but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.”  – Francis Bacon

The following questions might be used in a Table Talk, Chalk Talk, or a Carrousel Activity or a Collaborative Café Placemat Activity.    If used for Table Talk, each group might choose one or two of the questions to discuss. (If there is enough time, a group might choose additional questions.)  Then one member might serve as the “reporter” and share ideas with all participants.

  1. Why is scheduling cohorts of teachers and students together so important to pathways? What are some of the problems caused if the master scheduling process is not successful in the scheduling of pathways?
  2. Who should be involved in developing the master schedule? Why?
  3. How do we best move a faculty to an understanding of the importance of a student-centered, learning focused, equitable schedule?
  4. How can we make the development of a master schedule a more open process so that all stakeholders understand and support our school’s master scheduling guiding principles and priorities?
  5. What questions do a school and/or master scheduling team need to answer before beginning to build a master schedule?
  6. Pathways have a goal of preparing all students for college and career. Pathways have an equity agenda. If pathways are for heterogeneous groups of students that reflect the diversity of the school/district as a whole, how should the master schedule team best handle issues regarding access to honors or other advanced classes (AP, IB, etc.)?
  7. Many high schools are redesigning their schools with more flexible approaches to the use of time. Some are placing increased emphasis on student learning and achievement through extended projects, internships, service learning, and work-based learning practica. How do you anticipate that master scheduling and the process of building a master schedule will change as high schools change?
  8. What bell schedules and other master schedule practices best support a system of pathways? Best support student learning and achievement? What is your evidence?
  9. How can the Master Schedule best provide extended learning opportunities for underperforming students without taking them off the “college track”?
  10. When scheduling pathways, how should the Master Schedule team best address the need for inclusion and equity for Special Education students? For English Language Learners? For other special student populations?
  11. What are some of the best ways to provide common planning time or collaboration time for pathway teacher teams/pathway communities of practice? How might these strategies impact the master schedule?
  12. If master scheduling can make or break a whole-school conversion to pathways, what supports, networks, professional development, etc. should be in place for those in charge of the master schedule building process? How can major decisions regarding aspects of pathway development and implementation such as common planning time for teachers and pathway purity be discussed and determined collaboratively?
  13. Respond to the following: “A well crafted master schedule should reflect a school’s deepest beliefs about teaching and learning.”

This resource was developed by Patricia Clark, College and Career Academy Support Network, Graduate School of Education, University of California.
Permission is granted for educational use with attribution.

The Master Schedule Notebook serves as a repository for recording scheduling data, ideas, insights, decisions, etc. at every stage of the Master Schedule development process. It documents the process, the results, and the learning that occurs along the way.

The Master Schedule Notebook/Log/Journal/Portfolio may be maintained in a binder, as a set of folders, as a set of files on a platform such as Google Drive, or elsewhere in the cloud.

What follows includes a stage-specific Master Schedule Notebook checklist, recommendations for content for this stage, and guidelines for a team reflection.
Contents Cover Sheet
This includes a checklist for recommended Contents for Stage 1 of the Master Schedule Notebook. This also serves as a cover sheet for the Stage 1 Section of the Master Schedule Notebook.

Master Schedule Team
This is a template for recording your Master Schedule Team membership and roles and responsibilities.

Theory of Action
Defines a Theory of Action and why it is important; provides examples and a template.

Reflection on Stage 1
Description of Reflection Cycles, Sample Reflection Questions, Reflection Prompt for Stage 1.


All Resources in the Master Schedule Guide

Planning, Design & Preliminary Tasks

Teacher Pathway Program of Study and Course Preference Sheet


Overview of Tasks & Timeline

Updating Course Information and Course Catalog

Worksheet: Stage 1 Planning Tasks. Editable file.

Timeline Task & Samples
Template: Develop a Master Schedule Timeline. Editable file.

Samples of Timelines



Beginning the Conversation

Building Consensus-Making Decisions

Comparison of School Day and Use of Time in Pathways, Academies, and Schools

Design Thinking

Keeping Count

Lists, Lists, Lists

Master Schedule Posters (editable file)

Master Schedule Needs Assessment: Long Beach

Visualization Charts, Graphs…

14-Month School Year Calendar
Spreadsheet tool (Excel)
Instructions (PowerPoint)

Cohort Size Calculator
Spreadsheet tool (Excel)
Importance of Cohort Size and Structure (PowerPoint)

Bell Schedule Tool
Spreadsheet tool (Excel)
Instructions (PowerPoint)

Common Planning Time Estimator(Excel)

Facilities Load Calculator (Excel)

Staffing Allocation Calculator (Excel)


A-G Requirements

A-G Course Evaluation Guidelines

Acceleration and Intervention Strategies and the Master Schedule

AP Augmentation: How it Works

Bell Schedules

Course Codes, Course Titles & Course Descriptions

Dual Enrollment

Evaluation in the Master Schedule Context

Finding Time for Common Planning & Teacher Collaboration

Finding Time for Work-Based Learning

Honors by Exhibition, Embedded Honors

Master Schedule Team

MS Guiding Principles, Priorities, Milestones, and Metrics

New Course Proposal

Planning a Master Schedule with an Equity Lens

ROP Classes/Centers, CTE, and the Master Schedule

State District Site Policies that Impact the Master Schedule


Trends in Learning, Teaching and Assessment that Potentially Impact the Master Schedule

Blended or Hybrid Learning

Deeper Learning

Expanded/Extended Learning

Flipped or Inverted Learning

Online Learning

Standards Based Grading

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