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All special education teachers are going to be short-staffed at one time or another. The key is not to panic, but to plan for it. Check out how and why you would want to make a 1-man down zoning plan to support your classroom management strategies.

1-Man Down Plans and Why You Should Have One

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All special education teachers are going to be short-staffed at one time or another. The key is not to panic, but to plan for it. Check out how and why you would want to make a 1-man down zoning plan to support your classroom management strategies.

It occurred to me that I talk about 1-man-down plans all the time. I’ve talked about them in FB Lives and in training, but I’m not sure I’ve never written about them.

Consider this scenario. On a Tuesday, you get to school to discover that you have only 1 of the 2 paras assigned to your classroom. And there are no subs available.

That classroom barely runs with the 3 of you in place. Now you have to scramble to figure out how to get through the day with 1 man down (the missing para).

Sound familiar? Yea, I thought so. I think it does to all of us. All of us have experienced the 1-man (or 2-man, or all-man) down day. And of course we dread those days.

It’s bad enough being short staffed. But, the scramble at the beginning of the day to change up everything only makes it worse. It’s like starting the day 5 steps behind.

What is a 1-Man Down Plan?

That’s where a 1-man down zoning plan comes in. Essentially it’s a plan for what is going to happen when you don’t have all your staff. A zoning plan [link] is a schedule for the staff. A 1-man down plan is how your schedule and your zoning plan will be adjusted for that day.

Why Do I Need a 1-Man Down Plan?

There are several purposes and advantages to having a 1-man down plan.

  1. You need it for the day I described earlier when you don’t have a sub for an absent staff member. It eliminates the scramble in the morning and makes the day run more smoothly.
  2. 1-man-down plans are also really helpful when you are going to be absent. In that case, it might not be a 1-man down plan, but it makes it easier to have a sub zoning plan. Let’s face it, your paras run the room when you are absent…not the sub. Am I right? So, make it easy on everyone and just create a copy of the zoning plan that has the para doing your duties, and the sub doing the para’s duties. Then there is no frustration for a sub who thinks she needs to be the teacher.
  3. Finally, using 1-man down plans are great ways to provide training to your staff. Every 2 weeks (if you don’t have frequent absences) consider running a 1-man down day with all your staff present. This can allow you to step back and provide modeling and coaching for a staff member. Or to have a staff member come over and watch you run a center to train him or her. Or just allow you to float in the room and get a better sense of how the students (and the staff) are doing. That allows your staff to work more effectively (and you to plan more effectively) on the days when everyone is there. And you can even use it to work the kinks out of your 1-man down plan.

How Do I Make a 1-Man Down Plan?

To make a 1-man down plan, you will probably have to adjust both your schedule and your zoning plan. So I start with the schedule.


First, figure out if you need to reduce the number of activities going on if you have fewer staff. For instance, if you have centers [link] that are each supervised by a staff member you will have to go from 3 centers to 2 (in our example). Do you want to leave all the centers running but have one that can be supervised from a distance (you could do this with independent work or computer, perhaps)? Or do you need to eliminate one of the centers? Or can you substitute a different center on the 1-man down day?

For instance, could you have the math practice center move to a computer center (that the students might be more independent in) for that day? Then you could keep your groupings of students and not have to rearrange as much.

However, if you figure out you need to reduce the activities, figure out how you might regroup your students. Which students will you move to make 2 groups instead of 3?

*Zoning Plan*

Once you have your schedule set up, you can adjust your zoning plan to incorporate just 2 staff members. Just take the document and shift the responsibilities to the other staff according to your modified schedule. Sometimes it’s easier to start with a new zoning plan and sometimes you can just modify the old one. It depends on how much the schedule has changed. Either way, make sure to have a written zoning plan for these days so staff can follow along without a lot of explaining.

My goal in running a classroom is always to make it run without anyone having to direct the staff in what to do. The more time you opend directing the staff, the less time you are engaged with students. And when that happens, we lose their focus. So, work to make your classroom essentially run itself and think about how it will run on days when things go wrong.

You’ll thank me for it later!

Looking for more information on setting up your classroom effectively to maximize student engagement? In fact, we have a Quick Win about how to make a 1-man down plan in the Academy! Come take our course in the Special Educator Academy!

Until next time,

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