Classroom Routines

Article by Kathleen Jones

Imagine a classroom environment that has clearly established routines. What words come to mind? Peaceful? Safe? Fun? Productive? Now, imagine a classroom environment that has little to no evidence of classroom routines. What words come to mind? Chaotic? Unsafe? Stressful? Dysfunctional? Without routines and structure, opportunities for students to learn are minimized.

My close friend, who is a middle school teacher, when asked to define ‘routines’ said it best.

Routines are simply the way we do things in this class. They are akin to a set of standard operating procedures for daily tasks in class—entering and exiting the room, managing supplies, turning in work, forming small groups, managing technology devices, and establishing how we talk with one another.

Caution! This deceptively simple definition belies the ease in which to obtain it. If one were to visit a classroom where all transitions ran smoothly and efficiently, it might be tempting to think that the teacher “had all the good kids,” or that “the kids were behaving well because there was a visitor in the room.” Make no mistake about it: a highly effective classroom environment, where learning thrives, is no randomized event. Rather, it is the result of a series of very intentional and strategic practices.

The establishment of routines is the result of the relentless pursuit of a teacher’s high expectations, where behavior is modelled by the teacher, a student, and a larger group of students, until the entire classroom can consistently perform the desired action. Beware! Students are impressively keen at capitalizing on inconsistencies in the teacher’s response to off-task behaviors.

Take time to picture, in your mind’s eye, exactly how you want each routine to run. Think through every minute detail and consider how the physical arrangement of your room may enhance or detract from this idealistic vision. Consider how non-verbal cues can be used to maximize the efficiency of the routine. Anticipate challenges from students and devise a plan for handling the situation when it arises. Yes, it will arise. Students “test” every teacher to develop a sense of where the boundaries lie and the negative consequences, if any, that are presented to the guilty party. Pretend you are one of the students in the class and walk through the motions associated with the routine. Are there any physical barriers that slow down or confound the process? Ensure that the routines are simple. Perhaps one routine can serve as a catalyst for yet another.

Remember, you often must go slow to go fast. In the context of establishing routines, present a couple of routines at a time. Provide opportunities to practice them within the context of your content to make it meaningful. Spread the entire series of establishing routines over a few weeks. After all, no one likes to feel like they are drinking from a fire hose!

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