Routines and Procedures to Start the Year Right
Piano instructor Frances Clark once said, "Teach the student first, the music second, and the piano third." We must first teach our students our expectations and how to be successful in our classrooms before we jump into content. When you have procedures and routines in place, your time with students is maximized—and time is a sought-after commodity, whether you come from an affluent district or one battling budget cuts. In order to acquire more time, we must spend time on properly rehearsing expected routines and procedures with our students (Wong & Wong, 2004). When students are on task and meeting your expectations, you can then give them the careful and thorough observation and feedback they need.
Where to Start
Expectations tie right into your procedures and routines. In September, ask yourself, "What do I expect all students to know and be able to do?" My consistent top five expectations were as follows:
- Respect yourself, others, and the environment.
- Always try your best.
- Know the proper way to ask to leave the room (nurse, bathroom, etc.)
- Know how to acquire materials (pencil sharpening, asking for paper, etc.)
- Know how to transition from one task to another
Routines and procedures for these common expectations helps all successfully participate in class. For many years, I taught 9th grade in a poverty-stricken district, and my students came from a range of socio-economic backgrounds and academic abilities. Although I always received a diverse group, my routines and procedures helped level the playing field and create a safe place where learning could thrive. Students knew what was expected of them at all times, and there were direct routines and procedures in place for when those expectations were not met.
If you're having trouble identifying expectations, consider what can interrupt the flow of a lesson and how to correct the problem. One school year, I was frustrated because not all students were coming prepared for their tests, which required a pencil for Scantron sheets. When I was complaining to my students about their lack of preparedness, one asked "Well, what should we do if we do not have one?" Epiphany! My expectation wasn't being met; I never established a procedure for this situation.
Communicate & Repeat Routines
Effective communication at any grade level means clearly posting your expectations and verbalizing them over and over again. A teacher will then need to take baby steps, parceling out their procedures into steps (Wong & Wong, 2004). Whether you teach 3rd grade or 7th grade, if your routine for turning in homework is to place it in a designated homework bin, give your students a cueing system (Lemov, 2010). Have them start in their seats, and say, "When I say one, stand up. When I say two, pick up your homework. When I say three, walk to the homework bin and assemble a line. When I say four, begin to place your homework in the bin." This will take a few days practice, but you will eventually be able to cue students with "One … two … three … four." And then you will be able to remove yourself completely. If students begin to miss a step, it is important to start again from the beginning (Lemov, 2010).
It may seem as if you are wasting time, but in reality, you are spending time to make time; a procedure isn't a routine until it is practiced and becomes an innate part of a student's behavior (Wong & Wong, 2004). Having an anchor chart in the room can be very helpful, because everything is clearly posted for all students to see. Another helpful aid is the rule, "Ask three before me." Students are to ask three peers before asking their teacher. With this approach, you are not bogged down with questions that students can answer, but if you find that four students are unsure of a procedure, you know that that is an unacceptable number and that you will need to review the process from the beginning. Not having to repeat yourself is a huge time saver, and who couldn't use more time?
What About Really Difficult Classes?
A tough mix of students makes established routines and procedures even more important. I recently had a conversation with a teacher who felt that procedures would not work for reluctant students. One procedure was to lower a student's grade by 10 percent for each day an assignment wasn't turned in. The problem was that an empty procedure was in place. Lowering the grade by 10 percent was punitive and not motivating students to turn work in. We reexamined her expectation, which was "for students to complete work." The procedure should therefore be aimed at getting the students to do the work, so we came up with procedures that would frontload opportunities to complete the work:
Students complete assigned work.
- Students must complete the work during a lunch detention.
- If students skip the lunch detention, then they must stay after school with the teacher to complete the work.
- If students skip the after-school time, then they will be written up with a formal detention.
- If behavior becomes chronic (more than twice a week for two weeks), the teacher will call students' parents/guardians.
- If there is no improvement after five weeks, the teacher will request a parent-teacher conference.
If you are unhappy with students meeting your expectations, reexamine your procedures and routines. Do your procedures directly align with your expectation, and are they being consistently repeated?
Helping Students Self-Assess
It can be helpful to type your expectations into a checklist, print and laminate copies, and place one on each desk in addition to posting an anchor chart in the room. If you feel that your class is heading off course, the most important thing to do is to go back to your procedures. Take a deep breath and remember that you are in charge. Remind students that expectations are for their benefit, and continue to consistently repeat your procedures. When your students are self-sufficient, you'll know you've implemented successful routines and procedures.
Wong, H.K., & Wong, R.W. (2004). The first days of school. Mountain View, CA: Harry K. Wong Publications.
Lemov, D. (2010). Teach like a champion: 49 techniques that put students on the path to college. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Kerry Griswold Fitch is a K–12 staff developer in Penn Yan Central School District in western New York.
ASCD Express, Vol. 8, No. 22. Copyright 2013 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.