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3 Tips to Create a Dynamic Self Contained Classroom Schedule

As a BCBA working in a public school district, creating an optimal self contained classroom schedule is crucial to ensure the well-being and progress of both students and staff. When I taught my own classroom, I remember this being such an overwhelming duty, that I make it my mission to assist the self-contained classroom teachers I work with now with this task from day one! In this blog post, I’ll offer some tips as we walk through the process step by step.

1. Block off Non-negotiable Times & periods

First and foremost, identifying which staff and students eat lunch at which periods is essential. Since a lot of self-contained classrooms contain mixed grade levels, the students may not all be eating at the same time. Next, you’ll want to block off the head teacher’s prep period and any additional duties they may have (e.g., lunch duty, bus duty).

Finally, identifying which students are attending Related Arts or Specials (e.g., music, art, library). Since all of these periods are usually pre-assigned by administration, these are the easiest periods to fill in first to ensure that you’re in compliance with the main building schedule.

2. Rotate Staff among all students

One of the key goals in special education is promoting skill generalization across different staff members. To achieve this, consider a rotating schedule where staff work with different students periodically. This approach not only benefits students but also prevents staff burnout. It also prepares your team for unexpected staff absences by ensuring multiple staff members are trained on each student.

I have seen variations where teachers rotate by week or month, but I personally prefer to create a Monday-Friday schedule and keep that consistent week to week. Within this weekly schedule I rotate staff members to work with varied students across each class period. This weekly schedule helps to promote generalization while also eliminating the chaos of asking staff to relearn a new schedule each week!

3. Be consistent- yet flexible with a self contained classroom schedule

While a consistent self contained classroom schedule is critical for fostering skill development and familiarity for students, it’s equally important to remain flexible. As you probably already know, every day in a self-contained special education classroom brings its own unique challenges! At times, a student may display intense behaviors that require immediate attention, and as such, it’s essential to adapt on the fly.

6 3 Tips to Create a Dynamic Self Contained Classroom Schedule

Encourage open communication among your support staff, such as paraprofessionals and instructional assistants. Model the practice of checking in with support staff to ask if they are in need of a break or would like to switch students throughout the day (within reasonable bounds, of course). This not only empowers your team to voice their needs but also helps prevent burnout and maintain a positive classroom environment.

I found that in my teaching role, when I frequently checked in with staff as to these needs, it was more likely that they began checking in with each other to do the same. Flexibility and teamwork go hand in hand in providing the best support for students with autism and other developmental disabilities, and also cultivating a great working atmosphere for staff!


In my early years teaching in a private school for students with autism, I witnessed the incredible impact of staff rotation in a self contained classroom schedule. Not only did it lead to skill generalization, but it also created a more collaborative and supportive environment! Crafting an effective schedule for a self-contained special education classroom is a complex but vital task. I find that the key to promoting student growth and staff well-being is finding just the right balance between structure and flexibility.


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