As teachers, we all have them. The sacred classroom routines and procedures. And let’s face it, we need them. Even the most experienced teachers need to have structure in place in order to maintain a successful learning environment.
Many teachers begin the school year with their list of do’s and don’ts on the very first day in order to set their “ground rules”. I’ve found that this can be very overwhelming for students on day one. Instead, I like to spend the first few days with “Getting to Know You” activities and actually getting the students’ input on what they think the classroom rules should be.
Wait…what? Yes, I actually said that.
Now don’t get me wrong, as teachers we all have a particular set of routines and procedures that work best for us and our classrooms. But I’ve found that by letting students have input, they have way more buy in for those routines and procedures.
During the first few days of school, I have each table group come up with what they feel should be the most important routines and procedures we should discuss and we compile a list as a class. You’d be surprised that they pretty much come up with the same list you already had in your head anyway.
So here are my top 5 consistently used routines and procedures.
Say Hello! – I’ve always prided myself on doing my best to stand at my door and greet every student in some way.
Now I wish I could say I was one of those super creative teachers who had a cool personal handshake with each and every student, but with 170 students, sometimes I feel I’m lucky to just learn all of their names! But I do make a point to smile and say some version of “Hello” to every student that walks in my door.
During the first couple of weeks of school, my students like to use it as a way to also test me on their names to help me learn them all. (I told you, I’m really bad at learning names!) They have fun putting me on the spot and asking, “What’s my name?” Then they really like to make it hard on me when they start coming by during different class periods!
As the year progresses and we’ve built relationships, saying hello also turns into conversations about a T.V. show that we both watch, or the score of last night’s game, or even them singing along to my come in song for that day.
When I first started asking students to come up with their lists of classroom rules and procedures, I was surprised to see some version of this show up again and again.
All students want to feel noticed and appreciated by you. It makes them want to be in your classroom and it helps to set a positive mood for the rest of the class period. A simple greeting each day lets them know that they’re important and your classroom is a safe learning environment for them.
Show “RESPECT” – Now I know that this tends to be the number 1 rule for most teachers. Even my students always have this somewhere on their list. And I do agree that it is one of the most important parts of a successful classroom.
I put quotations around this word though because I feel like we often don’t do a great job of explaining or modeling what we want that word to actually look like in our classroom. And for many of us, that word might mean very different things in regards to our students. So if you use this as one of your rules and procedures (and I know you do), it’s important to define what it means to your classroom setting.
For me, it’s as simple as whoever has the floor gets your full attention. Meaning, the person who is talking deserves your time and you should be fully listening. This goes for every situation in class, whether we’re in large group as a class or if the students have broken into smaller groups to work together.
It’s important for every student to know that they have a voice in my classroom and they get to share their thoughts and ideas with others. It’s amazing what students can actually learn from each other when given the chance.
Hand Signals – So I have to admit, early on in teaching middle school, I wasn’t a big fan of hand signals. I always felt they were so…elementary.
There I’d be, in the middle of my most brilliant lesson ever and a student would be excitedly raising their hand and practically jumping out of their seat with enthusiasm. I couldn’t wait to hear the thought provoking question they were about to ask me but once I called on them, all I heard was, “Can I go to the bathroom?”
Ugh. We’ve all been there.
So it didn’t take long for me to go back and give hand signals a second look. I realized that anything that interrupted the flow of class became a distractor for me. (My husband will tell you that I’m easily distracted by most things!).
So my students and I needed a way to communicate without having to stop class to discuss going to the bathroom, sharpening a pencil, getting a tissue, or throwing away trash.
Full disclosure, I did still try to fight the hand signals at first and just told my students to get up and do what they needed to do. It sounded good at the time. They were middle school kids and could just get up to sharpen a pencil without having to ask. However this didn’t last long.
Again, blame in on my ease of distraction, but every time a student got up I would stop and just stare at them to see what they were doing. Now I was the one who was actually stopping class. So hand signals finally found a permanent home in my classroom.
For me, they were a game changer. My signals aren’t anything mind blowing, just something nonverbal that lets me know what the student needs without me having to stop my lesson.
My middle school kids still love to use the crossing fingers for the bathroom that they used in elementary. If their pencil breaks or they need an eraser, they simply hold it up to show me. I keep several hand held sharpeners and erasers on my desk and I just walk it over to them as I continue teaching. The same goes for tissue. I keep several around the room and I can walk the box over to them if they signal me by putting their hands on the sides of their nose.
Like I said, these aren’t extraordinary hand signals. But my lesson flow isn’t interrupted and my distractions are kept to a minimum.
Classroom Tour – During the first few days of school, I like to give my students a classroom tour of where to find items they might need throughout the year and places to both pick up and turn in class work.
Again, this sounds simple, but if you don’t set this up early on then you constantly get bombarded with the same questions each class period of where things are or where they should turn their papers in or where can they get their absent work. And I’ve found that my students like to know this information early on before they’ve even worked on their first assignment. That way they feel comfortable knowing where to go when the time comes.
This will be different for everyone depending on the layout of your classroom.
For turning in papers, I still like to use the legal-sized stacking trays. I keep them on my counter by the door for students to turn in papers as they leave. They’re numbered for each class period and large enough to fit all different sized assignments. However I will say that over the years I started collecting them after each class period so they didn’t sit out all day. Middle school kids can be very crafty and “accidentally” put their name on someone else’s paper or borrow one to just “check” their work.
I also make sure my students have access to a supply of pencils and erasers if they need them. I used to hoard my pencils and make my students trade me something while they borrowed it to ensure that my pencil came back. Personally, this became a giant waste of time for me. Most of my students are great about returning them and if not, I still have a huge supply from my previous hoarder years.
Finally, an important part of my classroom tour is always my “While You Were Out” folders. I don’t know about you, but it drives me crazy when an absent student comes in the next day and inevitably asks, “Did we do anything important yesterday?” Cringe. So for absent students, I hang up a colored folder for each day of the school week by my door. At the end of the day, I place any assignments, practice worksheets, homework, etc. that was handed out that day in the corresponding folder. I’d like to say I take the time to pull out copies for each absent student and write their names on their work, but I’d be lying. My students know that if they were absent then they can go to the folder for that day and grab everything we worked on, without having to ask me. It saves me so much time and it makes it easier (and less painful) on all of us.
Wrap it Up – So one of my previous rules for my classroom years ago was the oldie but goodie, “I dismiss you, not the bell.” It was direct, to the point, and reminded students that I held the power in the classroom.
I’d like to think my science class is the most important class and the only place my students would like to be, I had to face reality that my students weren’t hanging on my every word and didn’t appreciate leaving just slightly after the bell. I had talked to them about the importance and meaning of respect but I realized that I actually wasn’t respecting my students’ time.
I had used online timers in my class before but only for warm-ups at the beginning of class or for rotation activities. It had never occurred to me to use them as a reminder to wrap up the lesson or activity at the end of class.
I know, Duh!
I’m definitely guilty of getting so wrapped up in our class discussions and activities that the bell is ringing before I know it. Then kids are scrambling to throw everything in their backpacks or running to turn in assignments in pure panic that they’ll be late to their next class.
So for me, timers have worked wonders for my time management as well as for my students. My students seem more focused on the day’s activity when they’re not having to look up at the clock every few minutes. My timer changes based on the lesson we’re doing that day and I make sure to remind my students of that day’s timer as well.
For labs, I set my timer for 7 minutes before the bell rings to ensure students have plenty of time to clean up and properly put away their supplies.
For smaller activities, I tend to set it closer to 5 minutes to put everything back in order so it’s ready for the next class.
Most other days I’ve found that 2 minutes tends to be enough for them to pack everything up and be ready to move to the next class.
Timers have been a great way to ensure a stress-free transition for my students and for myself.
So although my classroom rules have changed over the years, these are my top 5 routines and procedures that have consistently worked best for me and my students in my classroom. I truly believe students crave structure (even if it doesn’t always seem like it). They like to know what is expected of them and how they can be successful in your classroom. Try giving your students a voice in making your classroom routines and procedures – you’ll be surprised what they come up with!
I’d also love to hear your tips on your favorite routines and procedures that work best for you if you’d like to comment below!
Thanks for reading!