Rethinking the School Timetable: How to Create a School Schedule That Works

Credit: Prime Timetable

The educational system in the United States is in a state of flux. Fed up with the rigid programs of the past, educators across the country found creative and innovative ways — from online courses to interactive software — to bring the 21st century into the classroom. The classes in many U.S. schools are undoubtedly becoming more productive and relevant to our youth’s future. 

However, as innovative as they’ve become in the teaching methods they apply, many schools have kept some of the impractical old habits that could also benefit from a more modern approach. One of the critical areas for improvement in that regard is how school schedules are made. 

Effective school schedules are essential for any successful educational establishment — they ensure that every classroom, every teacher, and every resource are used to their full potential for the benefit of the students. Schedules are rarely perfect, but they have to minimize conflicts that would make poor use of the teachers’ time and potentially hinder students in their progress.

Just like with everything else in education, schedules needn’t be done the old-fashioned way any longer. Once we grasp its relevance, we’ll know how to create a school schedule that makes the best use of the school’s resources and puts them at the student’s disposal in the best way.

Why School Schedules Matter

With the introduction of various modern technologies as teaching resources and learning materials, school schedules become more relevant than ever. Proper schedules determine not only which students attend which classes but also which teachers use those innovative resources in their instruction and when. If the scheduling is not executed meticulously, significant disruptions to the classes may occur:

  • Classes can overlap, causing the students to have to choose which course to take even though they initially wanted both
  • Resources may not be available to everyone
  • Lessons may be too short and the lectures cut in half
  • Classes could be too long, causing the students to lose focus
  • Instructors may not have enough time for their obligations outside of the classroom

Teachers have numerous out-of-class duties which are often not factored in the schedules. Effective schedules don’t only include teachers’ time in class but also the time spent on lesson planning, grading, dealing with parents, doing paperwork, and collaborating with peers. 

At present, it is estimated that most school schedules in American schools don’t reflect all those teacher duties and, instead, focus more on decreasing teacher idle time. That standpoint is wrong as teachers are rarely idle. Our schedules are shown to allow teachers only 45 minutes for non-instruction activities, which is way below the standard set by many successful, result-driven European schools

In their work, teachers prioritize both lecture time and the thorough preparation that is needed for effective instruction — a balance of those priorities has to be evident in the schedule. In essence, ten hours a week is recommended for the job teachers do outside of the classroom, including prep, class follow-up work, and peer collaboration. On occasion, schedules have to count in the time for peer observation, too.

Types of School Schedules

Credit: ectefl 

There are many ways to organize classes in schools, and they typically revolve around the student’s needs, their age, and the subject requirements. For the most part, schools in the United States use two main types of schedules:

  1. Period schedules
  2. Block schedules

Before any real work on creating a school timetable can begin, the school’s administrative and the pedagogical departments have to determine which of these models is the most suitable for their students and their school’s curriculum.

The Period Schedule

A period class schedule is the traditional scheduling method used by the majority of American schools. It means that students listen to several — usually six or seven — classes a day throughout the school year. Depending on the students’ age and the school in question, those classes (or periods) will typically last for roughly 45–50 minutes, on average. 

This method is beneficial for younger learners as it caters to their shorter attention span, and it provides opportunities for steady learning of the same subjects at the same time each week for the duration of the school year. Older learners, who can stay focused on the same activity for longer, tend to be disrupted by the 45-minute-class’s abrupt ending and benefit more from the prolonged instruction, provided by block scheduling.

The Block Schedule

Block scheduling was introduced sometime in the 1970s, which is when the need for more extended periods of instruction was recognized among middle and high school educators. Students sit in longer classes, typically anywhere from 90 minutes to three hours long each day. Blocks of instruction allow for lecture time, revision, practical approach, and feedback to be completed during the same class.

This method includes up to four blocks of classes a day, and students usually have day A and day B classes, meaning that they listen to different subjects on alternate days. Most of the time, the subjects are different in the first and second semesters of the academic year, as is the case in college.

Scheduling Methods
Period Schedules Block Schedules
  • The traditional method
  • Suitable for elementary school
  • Same classes the entire year
  • 45–50-minute classes
  • Appeared in the 1970s
  • Favored by middle and high schools
  • Different classes each semester
  • An hour and a half classes or longer

The Intricacies of Creating a School Schedule

Designing a schedule is not an easy task. It comprises several necessary steps, and schedules have to be modified many times to ensure that every requirement has been met and that there are as few conflicts as possible.

The timetable has to:

  • Account for what happens in each classroom at any given time of the workday
  • Maximize the availability of the school’s resources (classrooms, teachers, materials, and equipment) 
  • Provide the school personnel, the students, and their parents with information about each class

When creating the school schedule, the counselor first looks at the courses that are offered that semester or academic year. Specific courses have their own requirements in terms of qualified teachers, classroom size and equipment, and the number of students that applied for them. 

Next, the teachers have to be assigned classes according to their qualifications, and particular attention needs to be paid to distributing an equal workload among all instructors. Those are the essential details that have to be settled before any scheduling begins.

Once the first draft of the schedule is done, it has to be revisited several times over and accommodated to the students’ needs. The counselor has to check each student’s timetable to ensure they don’t have overlapping elective classes or huge gaps between them. 

Ensuring that there are as few conflicts as possible is a time-consuming process that requires numerous timetable reiterations. Most schools in the U.S. still use the old-fashioned pen-and-paper approach when creating schedules, which allows for certain mistakes to be made or details to be overlooked that could easily be avoided with a little help from modern-day technology.

How to Create a School Schedule the 21st-Century Way

Nowadays, there are countless apps that facilitate the ways things are done in all aspects of our lives and that have transformed the way we do business. Schools can benefit from digital technology in more ways than one, and scheduling can become less of a tedious task as well.

There are many ways to create a school timetable online, including mobile phone apps and more complex software, which is more appropriate for an official school schedule. Scheduling software comes with a host of upsides:

  1. Automatic generation. All that the person creating the school schedule needs to do is input the class requirements and details in the app, and the first draft will be generated almost instantaneously. Type in the names of the subjects, the names of the teachers, the length of the classes, and the days of the week when specific subjects need to take place (especially if you have A/B block days) or import them in electronic form and let the computer do the grunt work.
  2. Manual adjustments. Once the software has come up with the schedule, you can make the necessary tweaks that the algorithm couldn’t have anticipated, such as the need for a specific teacher or special student requests (some students are allowed them due to band practice or sports, competitions, and the like).
  3. Versatility. Scheduling apps have plenty of useful features that can further facilitate the process — you can create a school schedule template, distribute the master and individual schedules to staff members, as well as share personalized timetables with students and parents with a click of a button. The finished schedules and templates can be sent in printable form and are available across all devices. Access can also be restricted if needed, e.g., to substitute teachers.
  4. Revisions. Mistakes happen even before you enter the data in the software. Schedule-makers are more than familiar with late notices about teacher availability, overbooked classes, the need for a different classroom, etc., which can trigger a nasty headache. With a timetable app, it is easy to add revisions to the schedule, and the app will automatically alert you if the change has caused any conflicts elsewhere in the grid.
  5. Advanced features. Make specific schedules without breaking a sweat — tweak them to include odd and even weeks, divided or joint classes, optional courses, seminars, guest lectures, and much more.

As nifty as school scheduling apps are, they can never come up with the final version of the timetable. They are invaluable in the initial stages and save ample time in creating the first draft of the schedule, but the tweaks have to be made along the way in pretty much the same manner as they do without the app.

Scheduling Software
Benefits Drawbacks
  • Fast and easy input of information
  • A time-saving process
  • The first draft done in record time
  • Available across devices
  • Revisions done effortlessly
  • Master schedule and individual view cards available
  • Shared with a click of the button
  • Printable copy
  • Some conflicts have to be resolved manually
  • The final draft has to be created by a human
  • May be hard to include out-of-class work for teachers

Here are some apps that can immensely improve school scheduling and that also come with a number of other handy features for teachers, students, and administrators alike.


Credit: Gibbon

Gibbon is more than mere scheduling software — it is a full-blown school platform, and timetable creation is only one of a plethora of its features. This platform was designed by teachers and school administrators who were in search of a digital aid that would solve real organizational problems that a school faces on the daily.

To that end, they created a platform that boasts exceptional functionality, including:

  • Student-centered interface — teachers can collate information on each student and class, attendance, the areas covered, homework assigned, and they can use the Fast Student Finder option to open individual student cards for easier tracking
  • Unified access — access can be granted, customized, and restricted with ease, and school leaders and parents can access the information from the web-based platform 
  • Planner — the Smart Blocks feature reportedly cuts lesson planning time in half, as it allows for combining lessons into units, mapping the curriculum, grading, and even designating students with individual needs and creating syllabuses for them
  • Resource catalog — a school-wide database enables teachers to find the necessary resources, view, organize, and integrate them into their lesson plans effortlessly
  • Timetables — timetable admins can input the relevant data into a framework and design a timetable hassle-free; courses, classes, classroom, and enrollment features are also available, and teachers and students can access individual, class, and master schedules and link them to their Google Calendars for a personalized overview of all their events
  • Library — items can be loaned and tracked easily, and the inventory browsed and monitored in a single screen
  • Adaptability — the platform supports 20 languages, has numerous themes, and also offers a right-to-left text option
  • Open source — Gibbon allows schools to host on their own servers, backup, modify, and distribute the software for free 

Prime Timetable

Credit: Prime Timetable 

Prime Timetable is a school scheduling software that can be used by all stakeholders in a school — the administrative personnel who craft the schedule, the principal, the teachers, and the students and their families. It has a schedule-making tradition spanning over 30 years, during which time they’ve separated themselves from the crowd with an assortment of useful features, such as:

  • Copy/paste data import for prompt first draft creation
  • Daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly schedules for easier use
  • Master schedule view and individual timetable options for school leaders and students, respectively
  • Optimization for teacher and student load, classroom availability, building moves, and more
  • Multiple device-friendly for easier access
  • Extra Views feature for avoiding conflicts in the schedule
  • Allocation options for dividing students into group classes or elective subjects
  • Progress, error, and warning notifications for prompt corrections 
  • 24-hour backup for maximum security
  • Multiple format support for exporting to any other app

How You Can Improve Your School Schedule

Whether it is done by hand or is assisted by software, your school’s schedule has to account for more than who is in which classroom at any time of day. While it is there to guide students to their classes and structure their education, it often doesn’t factor in teachers’ duties outside the class.

Research has shown that school schedules in the United States are weak in the following points:

  1. Collaborative time. Teachers aren’t lone wolves, yet school schedules rarely (if ever) provide for opportunities for the collaboration among the teaching staff. Time should be set apart each week for peer review, class observation and feedback, the brainstorming of ideas, and joint syllabus creation and enrichment. The research we mentioned above suggests ten hours of the workweek should be devoted to collaboration alone.
  2. Lesson preparation time. This is when the individual work of each teacher happens. Lessons are planned, documentation prepared, papers graded, and many other things taken care of before the class even begins. At present, teachers’ schedules are so packed with classes that much of the preparation mentioned above is done at home during leisure time. A portion of each workday should be set aside for this type of teacher work, and the schedule should account for it. Ideally, teaching time should be limited to 60% of the teacher’s workday.
  3. Flexibility. Some subjects require more classroom time than others. For instance, an algebra session can be done during a 45-minute class, but science classes should include both theory and practical lab work to be considered fully effective. A well-designed schedule should allow for such flexibility.
  4. Versatility. At times, students benefit from breaking the habit of having the same classes every day. Experience has shown that supervised, student-directed learning is invaluable, as well as occasional class divisions and small group instruction, which allow for a more productive individual approach to each pupil.
  5. Workload management. One of the key areas of improvement that we already touched upon above is the workload of instructors that is not adequately reflected in the school schedules. The student-to-teacher ratio should also be reduced to improve the teacher-student relationship.

Let’s Reimagine High Schools Together

Rethinking education is a multifaceted and lengthy process, but with each battle won, the victory for our students’ better future is nearer. We can start with reinventing the way we create a school schedule — the seemingly simple and routine thing, but essentially, the engine behind every school’s operation, its productivity, and efficacy.

If you have experience in making school timetables or have found a novel and more effective way to tackle schedule creation, school culture, or school innovations and to organize your school’s resources, write a piece on the topic. Share your wisdom with us, and we will publish your article on our blog and inspire educators together. Become a contributor and help us change the face of American high-school education for the better!