Every teacher realizes the importance of classroom discipline. Even experienced teachers are frequently frustrated by problematic behaviors that seem obvious. (If you’ve had to tell someone not to eat plastic or not to tape flies to the floor, you know what I mean.) It may seem that the problem is discipline, when often the underlying issue might actually be with the classroom procedures, or lack there of. You probably know your classroom procedures inside out, but do your students? Before you answer yes, consider this. Do your students know when they are allowed to talk, who they are allowed to talk to, and for how long? Do they know which route to take in the room when going to get materials or lining up? Do they know when they can get up to get a tissue or when they need to raise their hand and ask?
Why Procedures Matter
Human beings rely on routines. We can do tasks automatically such as brushing our teeth, grabbing our keys, and even pulling out of our driveway, which allows us to spend less energy and anxiety thinking about what to do. Professional athletes, businessmen, and soldiers use routines to help them perform better. For these reasons, students also need routines. Most students want to do well in school, and many undesirable behaviors happen because students are confused about what to do. Some behaviors might seem obvious, but the expectations you have for your students could be entirely different than what their previous teacher expected, and even more different from what is expected at home. Explicitly teaching routines for each task you do repetitively can help relieve student anxiety and decrease negative behaviors. For example, when students enter your room in the morning, they need to know exactly what to do and in what order.
Practice, Practice, Practice
The only way to ensure that your routines make a difference is by practicing them. And then practicing them again. And again. And… you get the idea! I made the mistake early in my career of only practicing and teaching routines a few times during the first couple weeks of school and then expecting students to remember them. It is imperative that you continue to teach and reteach procedures every time you complete that task for at least the first two months of school. And even then you might find your students “forgetting” how to appropriately enter a classroom half way through the school year. There is no shame in spending time reteaching and practicing certain procedures in the middle of the school year. The more you practice your classroom procedures with your students, the more time it will save you in the long run from handling discipline issues, so you can spend time on things that really matters, like student learning.
Make it Fun
Teaching and reteaching routines doesn’t mean you have to run your classroom like a drill sergeant. You can easily incorporate humor and joy into your routines. Sometimes I joke with my students about what our classroom would be like if we didn’t follow the expectations. They will usually come up with some humorous examples of what not to do! You can also make procedures a challenge for them to complete. For transitions, I like to set a timer and see if students can beat their score for how quickly they take out or put away materials. Many times, my students start getting out materials before I even remind them in order to beat their score!
What Routines Should I Choose?
There are many suggestions out there for good classroom management procedures. When trying to decide what classroom procedures to integrate, what it really comes down to is your values, what you are comfortable with, and what your students respond well to. Some teachers might be able to tolerate more movement during work time than others, and you might need to be more strict about blurting out with some classes than with others. You should choose a plan that’s right for you, your teaching style, and your students. It’s good to have a plan in place at the beginning of the year, but realize that you might need to adjust it as the year goes on. If you’re having a hard time determining where to start, make sure you begin with establishing procedures around the major routines in your room. Start with routines for entering the classroom, instruction time, independent work time, group work time, turning in assignments, and leaving the classroom. Then you can work your way up to establishing procedures for things like tardies, making up work after an absence, sharpening pencils in the middle of class, and so on.
It’s Never too Late
Obviously, it’s ideal to have your classroom management plan ready before the school year starts, but sometimes things don’t work out that way. I can tell you from personal experience that it is never too late to put classroom procedures in place! I had a very challenging class my first year teaching, and due to a lack of understanding, I did not teach my expectations well at the beginning of the year. I thought I had lost my class completely in October. However, with a lot of hard work and reteaching procedures, I was able to bring them back and have a successful rest of the school year. So if you are feeling overwhelmed, don’t give up! Try some of these suggestions, and of course, reach out to colleagues who will be able to help give you advice and support.
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