Procedures, procedures, procedures. Not properly teaching procedures during the first weeks of school (or of a class) is something that can and will come back to haunt you all year long. This is true whether you teach Kindergarten or High School seniors. It is true whether you teach in a school where you have the same kids all year long or if you have a “revolving door classroom” where you often have new students introduced to your class. Teaching procedures is about having clear expectations, expressing them to your students and staying consistent with your expectations. By starting out telling students what is expected of them, your prevent questions and issues later on. It also prevents management issues that would prevent you from getting deeper into subject area or having time to give individual attention to your students.
Here are ten things you should teach within the first 2 weeks of a school year that will help save your sanity during the rest of the year:
1.) How to start & finish each day: Whether all of your students enter your room together or they come slowly in as they arrive to school, students need to know what you want them to do when they arrive. Where do they put their book bags, their books, their jackets? What do they do while they are getting settled? What time will you begin class? My students came in, put up their belongings and worked on their calendar books until we were ready to review calendar and begin our day. We started this on the second day of school, so that it became an automatic procedure within the first month of school.
The same goes for the end of the day. How will students gather their supplies and pack up? Will they all clean up at the same time or is it staggered? How will papers be distributed to them? Will they have to write down a homework assignment? Do you have to sign their agendas? Do they all line up at the door or wait to be dismissed from their seats? My students received any handouts before they gathered up their book bags and then lined up at the door and we left as a class, but every classroom does this a little different and telling students what to expect calms the chaos that can be involved in getting kids ready to go home.
There is no perfect way to start and end the day. You should choose the routines and procedures that work best for your age group and your students. Then you should begin practicing them. Leave additional time each day, particularly at the end of the day, for kids to get the routine down. By the second day of school students should begin practicing both their beginning of class and end of class routines so that by week 3 they have it down and your life is much easier.
2.) Unchangeable Schedule Items: No matter how hard we try, our schedules change during the school year. I was always changing my schedule to better meet the needs of my students. Some classes do better with Math in the morning, others need to write before recess, etc. etc. However, there are always parts of your schedule that are unchangeable. Recess, lunch, enrichment classes, etc. Post the times to these and get your students in the routine of remembering when and where they go as early in the year as possible. This is particularly important if you have students that leave in small groups for anything – speech, ESL, language classes, etc. Or if you are prone to running late, like I am! Last year, I posted the times for these things around my clock, so that they were super accessible to my students and we made sure to announce them time to them each day for the first week.
3.) Formatting Expectations for Notebooks and Papers: Putting your name on the top of your paper is often just the beginning of the expectations for student work, especially as you get into the older grades. Before having students turn in anything, have them practice formatting their paper. Do you want the date, the class number, a student number, etc. on the top of their paper? Right side? Left side? On the lines? In the top corner? Teach these things explicitly and post an example somewhere the students can refer back to it.
Notebook procedures need the same modeling, especially with younger students. They need to be told that they must not skip pages, must date their entries, and what should be on each page. This is why I included a page in my Interactive Math Notebook Startup Guide that has guidelines for the notebook. My students glue this page into their notebooks, read it, review it as a class, sign it and have their parents sign it. Having this agreement in there reminded me to teach the procedures well and kept the kids accountable for what they learned. Having organized notebooks gave the students a chance to use their notebooks as learning and studying tools. So this was really a win-win situation. We had less papers laying around driving me crazy and the kids had a great reference tool!
4.) Supplies: Students often have a lot of questions about supplies. Where do we find pencils, glue, scissors, papers, textbooks, etc.? When are we allowed to use them? How do we access them? How do we clean them up? How do we take care of them? One the first day of school, I always do a tour of the classroom, pointing out specific supplies. While I am presenting these materials, I talk about how I want them handled and when we will use them. Then, during the first two weeks I plan activities that utilize every material in my room so that we have a chance to pull out, handle and put away every type of material. I spend lots of time observing how students handle the materials and giving feedback, or stopping the whole class and saying “Let me show you again how I’d like you to handle your textbooks.” Taking the time now means less ripped book, less glue sticks and markers with no lids and less papers laying on the floor and all of that makes for happier teachers!
5.) School/Home Communication Policies: Every year within the first two weeks some third grader has a note from home for me that he doesn’t give me and I end up with an upset parent. So every year I start out by saying “In third grade, I do not go through your book bags. If mom sends me a note, it is YOUR responsibility to bring it to me.” I have a basket in the front of the room specifically for notes from home. I also put a sticker into the students agendas or take home files (whatever administration decides we’re using that year) with my e-mail address so that students and parents always know how to e-mail me, thereby cutting down on notes I don’t see.
Opening up the communication lines is important, especially in the beginning of the year when students and parents are still getting a feel for you, so it’s very important to be very clear with your students on how you expect that communication to happen. Do agendas need to be signed every day? Put a happy note in their agenda every day for the first week and ask parents to sign that. Do notes for you need to be hung on a specific clipboard? Ask each student to have their parents write a note with their favorite mode of communication on it so that every student can practice hanging up their note. However you communicate with parents, be sure to give students a chance to practice opening up those lines of communication early on so that you don’t miss communication down the line.
6.) Homework Policies: Homework can be one of the biggest stressors for kids, especially kids who may or may not have help at home. So take time to make your homework policies very, very clear. Explain what needs to be turned in, when, how and why. If students need to copy down their homework, be sure to leave significant time and to check what they have written. I personally turned away from copying down homework because so often students copy it down wrong and do the wrong pages or nothing at all, which defeats the purpose. I started printing out a weekly homework sheet with the assignments on it. Then I moved to Edmodo, which was even better because it could be updated regularly or scheduled months in advance. Plus, it eliminated the “I lost my homework” issue, as most often I could attach an e-version of any papers to the assignment so that they could be printed at home if they were lost. However, Edmodo takes a significant amount of training as well. We did assignments that required students to answer posts similar to the homework posts, but we did them in class the first two weeks so that the students weren’t confused when they got home. I also sent home an “Edmodo Cheat Sheet” to help them if they got stuck. However you choose to do homework, students need a lot of instruction on what that’s going to look like and what’s expected of them. Getting the routine out of the way means that homework actually has the chance to be helpful and gives our students additional support outside of the classroom.
7.) Technology Expectations: Technology is an amazing tool that can enhance our lessons and push students to the next level. But if students spend 20 minutes trying to log onto a computer, they are missing out on key learning time. So spend some time in the beginning of the year teaching students key technology lessons. How and when should they use the computer or the iPad? How do they log on? What can they do when they’re there? How do they do that?
Teach kids about technology vocabulary. Post technology vocabulary cards on a bulletin board or an o-ring so that students can follow technology directions without saying “What is a search engine?” Teach internet safety and internet research so that you can release students to do research without worrying about where they might end up. Set up accounts for programs you want your students to learn and teach them how to use them in the beginning of the year so that they can pick and choose the best program for the assignment. For suggestions on what programs your students might want accounts to, check out this old blog post – Technology Accounts to Start the Year With.
Teaching technology expectations up front allows technology to become the tool it is meant to be in our classrooms.
8.) How to Get Help When You’re Stuck: When I’m teaching small groups – which is a large portion of my daily instruction – I give my students the 3B’s rule. They can only disturb our group if they are: Barfing, Bleeding or Burning. This rule helps them understand that my time teaching small groups (guided reading, guided math, guided grammar, writing conferences, etc.) is very important and they may only interrupt for real emergencies. However, during that time they may still need help. So I spend the first three weeks teaching peer tutoring skills and working with students on how to get help without coming to the teacher. Some teachers use the “Ask 3 before me.” Other teachers have students write questions on sticky notes that get put on the teacher’s clipboard. Whatever strategy you use for students to get help when they’re stuck and you’re busy, you need to teach students this strategy BEFORE you expect to begin small groups. I spend a week or two teaching the strategy. First I “act busy” at my desk and observe to see if they can do it. Then I work one one one with students, generally doing reading assessments, and leaving time in between to monitor. I generally do not start really working with small groups until the third or fourth week of school. However I start independent work time (my version of centers – for more information check out this old blog post – Why I Don’t Do Center Rotations.) within the first or second week of school. This gives the students plenty of time to learn to work without me before they actually have to.
9.) Center/Workshop/Independent Work Routines: However your independent work time runs, students need to be taught how to do each activity before you begin. Independent work, no matter what it’s format, must be something students can do independently. Now that doesn’t mean they need worksheets where don’t have to problem solve or research or think it through, but it must be accessible to them. They need to be able to read the directions or they need to understand what to do. They need to have the basic skills needed. They need to understand the steps. Take time to pre-teach whatever they will be doing, so that there is less confusion and more productive time. I suggest having centers/independent work that doesn’t have to be retaught each week, but is the same or similar activity that is just changed slightly each week.
For example, when I taught first grade, I taught students the first week how to do word family self correcting puzzles, word family file folder games and word family making words centers with the –ack family. We did this family for three weeks in a row until I knew that they knew how to play all of these. Then, I introduced a new family every week all year long, giving students a new challenge with a familiar skill.
For older students, I use journals and projects like my Reading Response Journal, my Writing Journals, my Country Study Project and my Generic Non-Fiction Book Study which allow me to teach the procedures in the beginning of the year and still allow my students to keep working productively all year long without having to re-teach procedures.
No matter how independent work happens in your classroom, teaching students expectations will mean that independent work will soon actually be independent, allowing you time to work one on one or in small groups with the students that need you.
10.) Behavior Expectations – In and Out of the Classroom: Students will never behave as you expect them to if you don’t tell them what you expect of them. If you want quiet at a certain part of the day, be sure to explain early on “This twenty minutes is a no-talking zone. We need quiet to think about what we are reading.” Now if you expect a silent classroom all day long, you might not be in the right profession, but as long as your expectations are age appropriate and clearly stated, the kids will live up to your expectations. However, they need to know what your expectations are because all teachers are different. A teacher I partnered with recently wanted all work to be done with students sitting at a table. In my room, we have a tendency to spread out on the floor often. Neither is the “correct way to do it”, but students need to know what the expectations are.
I tend to be particularly finicky about behavior outside of the classroom. In the room we are a lot more loosey goosey, but outside of the classroom students are a reflection on me and I expect the best possible behavior. However, I am very clear from day one that when we leave the classroom – for lunch, for enrichment classes, for a fire drill, for a field trip – I expect the best out of my students and things they can get away with in the classroom with have different consequences outside of our room. I explain the reasoning for this – safety, not disturbing others, showing our best selves, etc. I am upfront and honest with my students and there is no confusion because of this.
No matter what your expectations are, explain them clearly and be upfront with your students. Students will rise to your expectations if they are clear.
Teaching procedures and routines during the first month of school will make the other 8 months of school more productive, less stressful and a more enjoyable learning experience for everyone. Are there any procedures that you teach that I left out? Please feel free to leave us a comment explaining it so that we can all learn from each other.