As you start to get ready for back to school, establishing classroom procedures and routines should be in the front of your mind. Decorating your classroom and rearranging the furniture, yes it’s a lot of fun to think about and to do, but it isn’t as important as establishing routines the first month of school. So, how do we go about planning for classroom procedures and routines?
Think through the routines you want in your classroom
In order to know what classroom procedures and routines to teach your students, you need to think with the end in mind. What do you want the students to do when they come in in the mornings, when they get ready for snack, when they start reader’s workshop, when they use the bathroom, when they do math work, and so on and so on. If you are new to a grade-level or school district, you might not know all these answers right away. Definitely reach out your team to ask them what it looks like in their classroom.
If you have been hired before the year is over, ask to observe a part of the day. It will really help you to see how the end of the year looks, because by then the classroom should be running itself! Even if you have been teaching at the school a year or two, but you want to get better at your classroom management, ask your principal if you can observe a teammate to see how they run the routines in their classroom.
Teaching the classroom procedures and routines to the students
I always follow the same four steps when introducing new classroom procedures and routines to my students.
Explain the routine and why we do it
Start introducing classroom procedures and routines to students with an explanation of when the routine is to be used, what it is, and why we do it. Take this example for getting ready for snack.
“Every day at school we are going to eat a snack. This helps our bodies stay healthy and gets our brains ready to learn! We will always eat snack in the mornings before recess. When we eat snack at school, we want to first get our snacks out of our backpacks and put them on our desk. Then, we want to wash our hands to stop the spread of germs and keep everyone healthy. Next, we can sit down and eat our snack. If we need help opening our snack materials, we can ask for help from the people at our tables. We can also get the snack scissors, but we have to put them back when we are done. The expectation is to stay at the tables the whole time until snack is over. We can talk quietly with our friends if we finish early.”
After explaining the classroom procedures and routines, I always model the expectations. I want my students to visually see what I am expecting of them. I will pause throughout the modeling to ask students what they notice I am doing. In the case of snack from above, I would make sure to model walking calmly to my locker and taking out my snack. I would then ask students what they notice and if they don’t mention it, add that I walked calmly to my desk and placed my snack on the table gently. I would then continue through all the different steps of the routine. If the students already know how to do a part of the routine, like washing hands, I just give a quick reminder about the expectations but don’t spend too long on it.
Have a child model it
After I model the classroom procedures and routines, I have one or two students model it for everyone. It’s important for students to visualize the expectations from other students. I often pick a student that I know can be a good model and a student that I know will need a reminder or two down the road. This helps because it gives them confidence that they can follow the expectations and be a role model for the class, but it also helps because I can say, “I know you know what’s expected because you showed the whole class the other day! Try again.”
Once the children have modeled the classroom procedures and routines, I ask other students to share what they noticed the students were doing. I make sure someone points out that they were calm, safe, quiet, etc. I love connecting these procedures to classroom rules/promises if we have created those as a class already.
Have everyone practice it
After a few students model the classroom procedures and routines, everyone gets a chance to practice it. This ensures that everyone understands the expectations and can be successful with them.
Keep practicing it throughout the year
You can’t just teach classroom procedures and routines once and be done with it. It is natural for children to forget parts of the routine or start to slide and see which parts they can get away with not doing anymore. Whenever I see a student not following a routine the correct way, I have them try it again. This lets them know that I am not going to let the expectations go. If several students are struggling with following the expectations, I stop the class and explain what I saw, then I ask a few students to model the expectation and then everyone gets a chance to practice it again. This happens several times throughout the year, and that’s ok! By the end of the year, the classroom really can run itself.
It’s ok to change up the routine if it’s not working
You make up the classroom procedures and routines without knowing your students and possibly without seeing your space or understanding school routines and curricular expectations. It is absolutely okay to change up the classroom procedures and routines for your classroom! When you do, follow the same steps as above! The more explicit you are with what you expect the better. I also like to use these opportunities to showcase being flexible and reflective and learning from mistakes.
For example, I might say, “I know that we’ve been practicing our snack routine every day, but I’ve noticed that there’s always a long line at the sink for washing hands. Sometimes kids can start to get silly and unexpected in this line, and sometimes it takes so long to wash hands, they barely have time to eat! So, I’ve decided we need to try something new. When I say it’s time for snack, Tables 1 and 2 will get out their snacks first and Tables 3 and 4 will wash hands first. Then when you are done, we will switch. Let’s try this this week and see how it goes. Table 1 and 3, can you model for us what this will look like? Table 2 and 4, what do you see them doing?”
Before school starts, you should be thinking about the classroom procedures and routines that you want to teach your students. Think about the expectations you want to set by first thinking about how the routines will look at the end of the year. Then you will explain the routine to your students, model it, have another student model it, and finally give everyone a chance to practice the routine. The more explicit you can be and the more you can break down the routine expectations, the more successful your students will be and your classroom will really run itself!