4 Ways to Rock Out a Self-Contained Schedule

Scheduling is my LEAST favorite part of teaching. It is so hard to fit everything in to a school day but it is nearly impossible to fit everything in to a special education day!

Here are four ways to rock out the schedule in your self-contained class:

1. Get Involved in the Master Schedule

Before you can make a master schedule for your classroom you have to get your master schedule from your school. In my school, we usually get this at the end of the school year so I have all summer to digest it and mess around with some different ideas for how to plan my days. My principal is awesome and lets me have all of my specials in the afternoon so I can teach in the morning when the kids are fresh! If you’ve never worked with your administrator on the master schedule, it is worth checking in and asking if he or she is willing to get your input on what would work best for your special learners. It never hurts to try!

Some things to consider:

-What time of day do I want to get the most teaching in?

-When can I make the most of my planning time?

-Are there teachers that I want to have common planning time with? This is especially helpful if you integrate your students sometimes. I like having a general education teacher with a similar master schedule to mine because sometimes I have students who are being slowly integrated into general ed.

2. Specials: Back to back or break them up?

Typically I have two specials per day. Last year I had one special in the morning and one special in the afternoon. I thought this would be ideal because I thought it would break up the day nicely. I thought wrong. I could never get any good teaching in! As soon as we’d get into something it would be time to line up for specials again. This year I had both specials in the afternoon and it was much better. Now I have my students with me all morning and I can get so much accomplished. If we get squirrelly or stir crazy I can do a brain break or switch up the activities. It is better to have a big chunk of time and have the freedom to break it up if you need to.

3. Make a List and Be Realistic

When I started my program, I had all of these amazing ideas and dreams of what I would do with my class. Pinterest and teaching blogs are NO HELP when it comes to this! So many cute ideas and so little time. Daily 5, writing, poetry, music, social skills, cooking, crafts, calendar, morning meeting, sensory, brain breaks, recess, volunteering, rest time, DEAR time, progress monitoring, interventions....the list goes on and on. Oh AND all of the regular instruction that goes along with my scripted programs. WHAT!? Even if we went to school 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, we still wouldn’t be able to get all of those things done. 

To plan your daily schedules, make a list of all of the things that you want to do with your class and then prioritize them. Obviously, the things you “have to do” should be at the top of the list (sigh). Write down approximately how much time you will need to do each thing and how many days a week or how often you need to do it.

For example:
Morning meeting- 5 days a week for 20 minutes
Cooking- 1 day a month for 60 minutes
Daily 5- 5 days a week for 90 minutes
Writing Workshop- 2 days a week for 60 minutes

It’s amazing how quickly you realize that you can’t do it all when you actually look at how much time “it all” will take. I found that when I was more realistic about our schedule I actually had more time for the fun stuff because I was not trying to bite off more than I could chew. As you can see I have a “theme related” block on Fridays which I am always changing up. I save that time for crafts, cooking and special activities (all those Pinterest boards!)

4. Designate a Therapy Time

“I want to do this activity but Joey is at speech!”
“I was going to start our story but Michael has OT!”

Can I get a biiiiig special ed AMEN?

The last nightmare in scheduling is scheduling therapy and pullouts. In my district our speech therapists are part of our faculty but our other therapists (OT, PT, etc.) work for agencies and travel to different schools in different districts. Some of my students have so many pullouts that I feel like they are never in class. Having a designated therapy time has been a saving grace to my classroom. The 30 minutes after lunch is our therapy time and rest time in our classroom. 

Now I know you're thinking REST TIME? Who has time to rest?! My kids don’t actually nap at this time. They read books, do puzzles, go on the computer, do flashcards. Depending on the class and the time of year this becomes recess, playtime, story time, etc. If you teach older grades, this could be considered quiet reading time, sensory time, intervention time, etc. You certainly won’t get all of the therapies for every child out of the way during that 30 minutes, but you can at least guarantee that a lot of therapies will take place. Some days ALL of my kids get pulled out and I get 30 minutes of bonus planning time! Parents also like to know that when the majority of pullouts are taking place their children aren’t missing math or reading instruction.

But I don’t have 30 minutes to spare!?!

Some people will feel that they can’t find even 30 minutes a day for a “therapy block” and I totally understand that. If you can’t justify a therapy time, choose an activity that you don’t mind having a lot of kids missing for (read aloud, calendar, journals) and try to schedule it at the same time every day.


  1. I love your spreadsheets and color coding! I have seen so much of that on this hop! I am inspired to be a little more like that this year myself!!!
    Mrs. H's Resource Room

  2. I don't know where I'm teaching yet next year (oy!), but if I end up self-contained this will be super helpful! Thanks for sharing!

    Years That Ask Questions

  3. 2 specials a day?! You're one lucky lady! I have 2 specials a week. I love your therapy block. Our therapy staff is all contracted, we've had 4 speech teachers in my 5 years in my classroom! Luckily I hunt them down first and talk to them about the scheduling (and I have the old therapist leave notes to check in with me immediately). I always schedule speech during my reading centers so my IAs can get a lunch break!

    You AUT-a Know

  4. First, I LOVE the take you took of not assuming you have to get what is given in terms of specials times and to advocate for being part of the planning of the schoolwide schedule! So great! I also really liked that you talked about prioritizing which activities you have time for!

    Autism Classroom News

  5. Man oh man, therapies are seriously the biggest pain in my butt. Unfortunately I'm for the most part stuck with whatever times work best for the therapist for my kiddos. You are lucky you can squeeze a lot of it in a designated time! Also, I feel your pain on wanting to do so many cool things but not having the time! Darn Pinterest ;-)
    Kayla of My Special Learners

  6. I felt like I was listening to myself talk as I was reading your post! I tend to face all the same types of challenges...trying to squeeze all those great Pinteresty bloggy ideas into my days...plus working around pull out schedules...and with specials...it gets crazy. We have 2 specials 3 times a week...and 1 special the other days. As great as this is for planning time...or for the kiddos to get that brain break...it cuts out so much of my instructional time! It can definitely be challenging. Thanks for sharing...I like the way you try to build in extra therapy time.
    The Organized Plan Book

  7. First of all I love your colourful schedule! Secondly, I like how you broke your process down. That was very helpful to me!

  8. That's great that you had the master school schedule done so you could utilize it ! Rarely did we get our master school schedule until we returned in August.

  9. Thanks for the tips! It's interesting to see how the scheduling is done in a self-contained setting as I do resource/inclusion. I love the suggestion to be realistic with planning. You really do have to differentiate between what you can do and what you want to do sometimes.

    Special Little Learners

  10. I love the template. Is there any way to get an editable PDF format of your master classroom schedule available for download? Thank you!


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