A Typical Classroom
Imagine this classroom scenario. The first bell rings signaling the start of the day and the fifth graders rush in in an explosion of chatter and good-natured shoving. A couple of the students approach the teacher with questions about last night’s homework, but she is too frazzled to respond as she sits at her desk entering grades into her computer. Other students form small groups of 3 or 4 and chat with each other, leaving their backpacks in a heap on the floor. When the tardy bell rings 5 minutes later, the teacher calls out, “Everyone in your seats, and take out your homework, and turn it in on the table…actually no, turn it in on my desk. Now quiet down so I can hear the announcements!” Not surprisingly, only a handful of students follow her instructions.
Establishing Classroom Procedures
As you can imagine, it takes a while before this teacher has any semblance of control over her students, and valuable class time ticks by as she tries to get them focused. This class would not likely be able to handle the freedom and autonomy that comes with inquiry based learning.
Now imagine this much different scene as the bell rings in another classroom. The teacher stands at the door and welcomes each student into the room with a handshake and personal greeting. As students enter, they immediately hang up their backpacks on numbered hooks at the back of the room, and then form an orderly line at the whiteboard to mark their lunch choice on the posted menu. As students mark their choice, they then turn their attention to the screen where the teacher has posted her daily greeting and checklist. On this particular morning, they read that they should turn their math homework into the “In Box” and then read silently at their desk from one of their library books. By the time the tardy bell rings, all but three students are reading, and those three quickly follow the lead of their fellow classmates and grab a book.
So what is the difference in these two scenarios? In the first example, the teacher has not established clear morning procedures and her students take advantage of the lack of structure. In the second example, students clearly know the expected routines, and with the addition of the daily morning message posted, they are able to adapt to any changes depending on what the teacher needs them to do.
As you would expect, the second teacher is able to get class started much more quickly and efficiently, and it is all because she took the time at the beginning of the year to establish consistent routines and procedures. While this example was only focused on the first few minutes of a class period, and basic morning routine procedures, there are countless other procedures that teachers can implement within their classrooms. These procedures can generally be broken down into six categories as listed below.
- Morning Routine
- Housekeeping Tasks
- Instructional Time
- Group Work
- Communication Signals
- End of Day Routine
Let’s take at a look at what each category entails, and the questions you would ask yourself as you develop your own procedures plan.
- How do students enter the classroom? Some options include being greeted personally by the teacher (as in the example above), or perhaps a classroom job is to be the student greeter at the door. It may even be as simple as once the bell rings, students may calmly and quietly walk in.
- What do students do as soon as they enter? For example, you will want a plan for how and where they put away their belongings, turn in their homework, make a lunch choice, pick up graded work, or give notes to the teacher.
- Do the students have some type of written warm-up, work to complete at their desk, or should they just read silently at their desk?
- What do students do when they need to get a drink of water, use the restroom, or sharpen a pencil? Some teachers use a physical pass, while others devise a silent hand signal. Be sure to consider if there are specific times when these tasks are allowable, and when they are not (barring any emergencies of course!)
- How are papers distributed and/or collected? Is there a teacher assistant to pass things out or gather completed work, or are papers simply passed down rows? You will most likely want to designate a place to turn in completed work.
- Where do students keep their personal belongings and supplies? This could be labeled / numbered hooks or cubbies for backpacks and coats. You will also need to consider if you want to have community supplies or if individual students will store their own supplies in their desks.
- How is technology handled? For example, where are tablets and laptops stored and how are they distributed? Is work submitted electronically, or printed and turned in?
- Where does the majority of your instruction take place? Do you have a common carpet or meeting space where students move to for a lesson, or do students stay at their desks? How will they know what they need to bring to the designated space, or what materials they will need out on their desks?
- During a lesson, how do students communicate their thoughts and questions? Most teachers require a raised hand to indicate they want to share or ask something, but you may decide on some other signal.
- During an assessment, are there any special procedures? For example, do desks need to be separated or should students use a privacy divider?
- How will groups be formed? This may vary based on the instructional need, but options include random grouping, numbering off, teacher pre-selected pairings, or even student choice.
- How are small groups managed? You may want to assign specific roles such as a time-keeper, group secretary, or task manager to name just a few. Be sure to give some thought as to how you can ensure that every group member has a voice and participates fully.
- How will students indicate to the teacher that they have a question or need assistance? This could simply be raising a hand, or you may want to institute an “ask three before me” policy.
- If you are leading individual student conferences, or need to meet with small groups, how do those students schedule the meeting? Is there a sign-up list or do you use an online scheduling tool?
- How do you get the attention of the whole class? You might use a callback signal such as “Back to me,” flashing the lights off and on, or some other sound signal like a chime or bell.
End of Day Routine
- Are there particular duties assigned at the end of the day such as emptying the trash or recycling bin, sharpening pencils, or straightening the classroom library?
- Is each student responsible for picking up trash in their area and stacking their chair?
- Do students line up for dismissal, or stay in their seats? And finally, does the bell dismiss the students automatically, or do you release them with a goodbye or other routine such as a joke, riddle, or inspirational quote?
As you think about the questions above, it is imperative to know that this is not an exhaustive list by any means. Each teacher has their own unique management style, and of course, different grade levels have different needs. You will inevitably think of procedures that are specific to you, and you will find that some of these are completely unnecessary. It is important to customize your classroom management plan with procedures that fit your teaching style and the needs of your learners.