The 4 Cardinal Rules for Classroom Procedures

Ohhhhh, it’s that time of year, teacher friends! It’s ALMOST time to meet our brand new, bright-eyed students, welcome them into our classroom community, and turn our classrooms into positive, inspiring, WELL-OILED learning machines!! Of course, all teachers know that taking ample time to teach procedures at the beginning of the year pays dividends for the entire year.  Ideally, you will spend the first two weeks modeling, practicing, and reinforcing procedures with your students for Every.Single.Thing in your classroom. (With little ones taking 4-6 weeks)  In the back of your mind, keep telling yourself, “This will all be worth it later on!”  Those procedures pave the way for the true learning to take place because students feel safe, know and practice what’s expected, and behavioral issues are minimized.
I’ve come up with 4 “Cardinal Rules” that are very important for teachers to keep in mind as we introduce and teach classroom procedures at the beginning of the year.  Here they are!
For real, y’all.  Pretend they’ve never seen a pencil sharpener before.  Pretend that a glue stick is a brand new tool.  Pretend that they’ve never once lined up or walked in a hallway before. (And let’s be honest…Some years we really don’t have to pretend!)  It doesn’t matter if they’ve been practicing the exact same procedures since Kindergarten.  If you want your students to do as expected, you have to set them up for success. That means don’t leave ANYTHING out! Teach every procedure thoroughly, practice with fidelity, remind them often, and reinforce regularly.
In the younger grades, you will want to give them ample time to “play” with materials in the form of Guided Discoveries.  Model how to use each material appropriately and discuss little things like “push your marker cap down until you hear the click!” and “Just a dot, not a lot!” for glue.  Give them time to “practice” using scissors, markers, pattern blocks, etc.  Typically, they are unwilling to attend to a lesson with a brand new math material, such as geoboards and rubberbands, unless they’ve gotten the “play” out of their systems.
 Also, don’t forget that sometimes they completely FORGET procedures during specific times of the school year, especially after long school breaks in the winter and spring.  Save some frustration and take some time as soon as they return to assume that “they know nothing” and review those procedures again.
It’s their classroom too!  Instead of listening to you drone on about all the ifs, ands, and buts of classroom procedures, let them contribute!  Ask them, “What should dismissal look like in our classroom?  What should it sound like?  What could we do to make dismissal as safe and easy as possible for everyone?”  If you let your kids be a part of planning the procedures, they are MUCH more likely to abide by them regularly.  The following chart is the perfect tool to hold a whole class discussion for procedures, and it’s EDITABLE for you to type students’ ideas!  Project it on an Interactive Whiteboard and let the students come up with ideas, then print it to display in a relevant area of your classroom. For example, expectations for walking in the hallway could be placed right by the door.  This chart works best with the “big” common area procedures, such as arrival, dismissal, recess, cafeteria, etc.  It isn’t necessary for smaller procedures such as turning in work or getting a drink.
Students have to actually SEE the procedure being carried out correctly.  Simple talking about it isn’t enough.  It must be modeled, first by you, then by student volunteers, and then practiced repeatedly as a whole class.  If you are discussing cafeteria procedures, take them to the cafeteria if possible during the morning so they can practice before lunchtime.  Before dismissal on the first day, do a practice walkthrough to show students which location in the school that they need to go to.  As you are modeling and practicing, pose “What if?” questions, such as “What do you do if you need to sharpen your pencil, but it’s in the middle of a lesson?” or “What do you do if there are three students already at the pencil sharpener?”  Act out the “What ifs” with the students and turn the procedures into something they can see.
Procedures aren’t exactly the MOST fun thing to teach and practice, especially that dreaded Lock Down Drill, but it’s important to keep it as positive and fun as possible.  A great way to practice Attention Getters is to play “The Freeze Game” where students walk around the classroom visiting and have to freeze and look at you when they hear a certain sound, like a bell or a call-and-response. Make SURE that as you are practicing, you are praising the specific action instead of praising the child.  For example, instead of saying, “Look at what a wonderful student Molly is!” try “I appreciate the way that Molly is showing courtesy and letting others go first at the water fountain.”  Praising the action bears more weight and recognition and will be more likely to be followed by other students.  Another thing to keep in mind is NOT to model what students SHOULDN’T be doing, although it can sometimes be tempting in order to hold their attention.  Showing them what isn’t expected might give them unnecessary ideas and distracts from what is expected.
So here are some FREE, EDITABLE tools to help you plan and organize your classroom procedures!  The following freebie contains checklists, forms, and organizers that are perfect to keep on your clipboard during those hectic first few weeks so that you won’t forget a single procedures.  These are also perfect to give to student teachers or new teachers that you are mentoring.  Save your checklists to your computer so that you can modify and add to them year after year!
Here’s to hoping that your first day is absolutely fabulous, friends! Get those kiddos in line!
***Fonts by KG fonts, Digital elements by I Teach…What’s Your Superpower?***