Administrators: The Secret to Special Education Scheduling

I am wondering if rather than calling my blog “Rapacious Learning” I should call it “Confessions of a Rapacious Learner”.  If you ever think I am judging bad practice in my blogs, please understand that just about everything I am now critical of are things I once did myself.  And this is the segue I will use to move us into the trials and tribulations of special education scheduling.

Basically, scheduling for special education generally happens something like what is described in the following scenarios.

Scenario #1: Students receive one class period a day or one class period every other day of special education.  This class is called something like Study Skills and incorporates instruction in all goal areas.  It is for the Level 1 student who attends all regular classes and has this time for supplemental instruction.  In some districts, a student may have her/his LRE rate doubled because one building has every other day Study Skills (middle school, for example) and the other school (high school, for example) has every day Study Skills.  This is often the case in high schools when they do not offer alternate day classes in their schedule.

Scenario #2: Students receive their special education time by goal area.  Each goal area is allotted minutes on page F and the student goes to the special education classroom for the designated minutes.  The special education teacher has to work out the time with each regular education teacher and, often, the special education teacher gets their time with students when it works for the general education teacher, which does not allow for grouping for instructional need.

Scenario #3: Once the special education schedule is done, it ends up that one of the special education teachers does not have any students scheduled into their Study Skills class during 4th or 6th period.  This is not realized until the first week of school.  At that time, the decision is made to have the special education teacher co-teach a Science class and a Social Studies class even though there is no common planning time for those teachers.

Scenario #4: Every student with a behavior goal in the building has a Social Skills class they go to every-other-day.  This is the instructional piece of the behavior goal.  The class has nine students and they all receive the same instruction.

Look familiar?  It is very familiar to me as this is the way I have seen it done and the way I did it myself when I was an administrator.  We fit the student into the schedule instead of making the schedule fit the student.  When a student gets to middle school and high school and has Level 1 services, the needs of the student are seldom even discussed; they just go into the special education catch-all class where every special education student is scheduled.

Here are some guidelines for special education scheduling.  They are not easy to follow, but it is imperative that this becomes a priority for schools.

  • Students should only be pulled out of core instruction when they are going to receive direct, purposeful, and effective specially designed instruction. If the student goes to the special education room for 40 minutes a day and spends 30 minutes doing a worksheet while the teacher works with other students with different needs during that time, the student should only go to the room for 10 minutes.
  • Special education instruction should move the student forward in the core curriculum. Although the instruction may be in an isolated skill area, the instruction should have an impact on the bigger picture skills such as comprehension.  Special education teachers must know the core curriculum to be effective.  Remember, Tier 2 and 3 interventions only matter if they move the student forward in Tier 1.
  • Special education teachers should not have to negotiate time with the regular education teachers without the support of the administrator. Having a school-wide RTI time helps with this issue tremendously, although you may still need to find time for special education SDI outside of the RTI time.  Students should not miss vital core curriculum instruction when they go to the special education room.
  • Co-teaching is not supported by research at this time. You heard me and I said it out loud.  This does not mean co-teaching is not effective, it means that we implement this model so poorly in so many instances that the results are not there.  If you are going to have a special education teacher co-teach in a classroom, make sure this is done with thoughtful planning.  The teachers must be given time to collaborate, the special education teacher must have knowledge of the core content, and the special education teacher has to function as more than a glorified paraprofessional.
  • I know this one is a huge sacred cow and it is one that I have personally not come to support easily; stop giving high school credit for special education SDI classes. This causes students to spend more time than they need in the special education room and, oftentimes, it ends up being a study hall with support.  If the student needs help with their assignments, this is often not the best place for this to happen anyway. I have been in many an IEP meeting where the student has to stay in special education because “they need those credits to graduate”.  Again, high schools that have a seminar/RTI time get around this because all students have the same designated time for enrichment and support.
  • DO NOT have a one-size-fits-all class for students with behavior goals. This is another thing I loved and lived for many years.  First of all, these kids don’t have the same instructional needs when it comes to behavior.  Second of all, kids with chronically disruptive behaviors have a difficult time learning in the abstract.  The best model is to provide a couple of short, targeted lessons per week that are individualized (could be created by a teacher and delivered by a para) and then consistently reinforced throughout the day.  By far the best success I ever had with behavior instruction was at a large, urban, middle school where I functioned as a behavior interventionist and could instruct and reinforce all day long within the general education setting.

And, most importantly, whatever you do, make sure you are always focused on results.  Is the student making progress with the services being provided?  If not, you need to have a schedule that allows for things to be flexible as needed to ensure that the services provided are getting results for every student.

(July, 2015)


Tips for School Administrators to get a Good Night’s Sleep

One of the most frustrating things about being a school administrator for me is the fact that my work is never done. I know lots of people will say that about their work, but for us, I believe this is true at a completely different level.

This was particularly true when I worked as a building administrator. As a Vice-Principal of a 4A High School who was in charge of discipline for 9th , 10th, and 11th graders as well as being in charge of special education for the entire building, the list of what I failed to accomplish was always much longer than the list of what I actually got done each day.

Most days I didn’t even realize the scope of what I didn’t get done. UNTIL I GOT INTO BED. Then EVERYTHING I didn’t get done immediately rose to the conscious level of my brain. And then the stress would begin. Crap, I have to remember this tomorrow. Are you kidding me? How did I forget to do that! Is it too late to call that person now? (Yes, it is midnight now!) So, not only am I an incompetent can’t-get-anything-done stress ball, I am also now too tired to function.

I had a particularly bad time with this one year; I think it was the year we got the 10% cut in the middle of the year and a major employer announced it was leaving our town. And, truly, it seemed like the adults I worked with got stupider in their decision making with students every day. And any amount of sleep for any amount of time was non-existent for me.

At the same time, I had this idea to give a personal note to every staff person in my building. I had done that when I worked in a previous building and I knew that behavior celebrated is behavior repeated. Since this was something I wasn’t getting done, it ended up being something that I thought about as I went to sleep.

I started mentally going through each staff person in the building one-by-one, thinking of what about them I appreciated so I could start crafting these letters. Well, it didn’t work very well because I kept falling asleep right away. So, I realized that if I make myself think positive things about the adults I work with every day, I fell asleep and stayed asleep. I could sleep if I made myself think differently and all of us control the way we think! I have suggested to some stressed out teachers to do this same activity, but do it with their students in mind. What about each child do I appreciate?

As the years have gone by, I have found this strategy to be hard to maintain because I only have so many people to think about in my life. In the same vein of thinking, I decided to try and fill my brain with mundane thinking that will require my brain to work, but won’t trigger stressful thoughts. I have used things like thinking of every movie Meryl Streep has been in, or all the Academy Award Best Actor winners, or every town I have ever spent the night in, or the top 20 books I have ever read. As soon as my brain is occupied with this task, I fall asleep.

As educators, we tend to be people who take care of others and don’t always make taking care of our own selves a priority. Always remember, if you don’t take care of yourself, you really can’t take care of anyone else. So, get some sleep, it’s important!!

(March, 2016)

Administrators: Special Education Rosters, Scheduling, and New Students

I was a building level administrator for 14 years of my career. During that time, it always seemed to me like summer was over once the 4th of July passed, and a lot of the after 4th of July, but still in July, work I did seemed to revolve around the world of special education. These areas included rosters, schedules, and new students. This first blog will be about creating rosters while avoiding the roster monsters.


In almost every situation I have been in, rosters have been a BIG deal to the special education teachers;  I would get many emails asking if the rosters were done and when they could have them in their hands. The last several years I handed out rosters as I knew them at the end of the school year before teachers left, making sure I was very explicit that these were drafts and that they would change some before school started. This appeared to relieve teacher roster-anxiety and kept them out of my hair in the summerJ

I think it is important that a building administrator have the final say on rosters. I have been involved in many variations of the roster creation process and I think you ask for trouble when you delegate this responsibility. I have seen Department Chairs do it, teams of teachers do it, guidance do it, and even a building that has the AEA create the rosters. You should certainly get plenty of input, but the final draft should come from you, the administrator.

As a building administrator, you need to make sure you are familiar with your DDSDP (District Developed Service Delivery Plan) and how that plan says rosters will be managed if a teacher thinks their roster is too heavy. Everything you want to know about the DDSDP can be found at Your district’s DDSDP is required to be made public and you should be able to find it on your district website.

The DDSDP often describes a point system for rosters and you need to be aware how points are assigned and what happens if you assign a roster with too many points. I have seen all sorts of things in district’s DDSDPs that don’t always make sense. On several occasions I have seen more points given to a student who has a para, for example. Shouldn’t that be less points if the teacher has a full-time para to help support him or her with that student? The DDSDP has to be done at least every five years, but if you don’t think it makes sense, it can always be revised before the five year deadline. Talk to your Superintendent if you think a revision may be necessary.

There are some dangers to the entire roster monster. This is where the “my students” thing starts and it is good to use this time as an opportunity to remind all teachers that the roster list does not mean the students belong to the special education teacher. It does not mean that the roster teacher is the only one who serves that student. It does not mean that the roster teacher gives all the probes, that is still the responsibility of the teacher who is providing the instruction, which may be another special education teacher or a regular education teacher. It does mean that the roster teacher is responsible for ensuring that all the IEP paperwork for that student is complete and they are the primary contact for parents.

There is a new monster in the room when it comes to special education rosters. In Iowa, the roster teacher for a student on the Alternate Assessment must have the Strategist II licensure. The BOEE cross-referenced all the students on the Alternate Assessment with the licensure of the student’s roster teacher and found that many of those teachers did not have the Strategist II licensure. Those districts and teachers have been notified that the teacher does not have the proper licensure and must have at least a conditional license by the start of school.  Keep in mind that the student on the Alternate Assessment must have a roster teacher with the Strategist II licensure, this does not mean that every teacher that the student has during the day has to have that license. If you have a teacher in your building with the Strategist II licensure, you will want to make sure that they have all the students on Alternate Assessment on their roster.

Rosters will change as the year goes on and new students join special education and other students leave special education. I would periodically look at rosters and make adjustments as students had schedule changes, students moved in, students were staffed out, etc. Although this is has not always been the case in buildings where I have worked or visited, I do think the roster teacher needs to have contact with the students on their rosters. It did not make sense to me for a student to have two classes with two different special education teachers and a third teacher had the student on their roster. In a larger high school I worked in we tried for a period of time to have teachers keep the same students as they progressed through high school. Although this was good for continuity and parent relationships, it just didn’t make sense and didn’t work well for the roster teacher to not see the student at all in their schedule. The costs definitely outweighed the benefits from my perspective.

So, get your rosters done before the teachers leave for the summer but make sure they know it is a draft, make sure your students on the Alternate Assessment have a roster teacher with the Strategist II licensure, be the final say on rosters for your building, emphasize that the roster for a teacher does not make those students “her or his kids”, be aware of what your DDSDP says about rosters, and verify that progress monitoring is done by the teachers that is providing instruction in the goal area.

Next up, special education scheduling!!