Give Your Students the Gift of Routines

effective Oct 01, 2016


In my very first graduate class for my MAT, I was assigned a short paper, to be titled “The History of My Education.” Seemed benign enough. I took it to be one of those cutesy getting-to-know-you activities that we teachers love to frontload when we meet a new class. Alas, it was much more than that. That little essay turned out to be quite enlightening. Though I was decades past high school graduation, and fancied myself to be reasonably introspective, I had never actually considered my childhood school experiences at any length.


When I started to recollect my journey, grade by grade, it was quite an eye opener. My first five years of school were spent in five different schools, in five different cities.  It surprised me only slightly less with each reading of my draft. HOW had I never noticed such a thing? Days later, as we shared our work in class, I also learned that this made me unique in my grad school cluster of twenty-five other people. Even the military brat couldn’t compete. From my (still new) teaching perspective, it was sobering.


This meant I had highly likely learned to read with five different curriculums. That the new math methods in one school might have been entirely different than the new math methods in the next four. And I am certain that the “standardized” testing wasn’t so standard, across three different states. Pile on top of that the social implications of being the perpetual New Kid.  All this had to be challenging, right? Yet. I absolutely LOVED school.


Once upon a time, I was an elementary school nomad.

Not my school, mind you. I didn’t love “my school” until a good number of years later, when I actually stayed put long enough to have a sense of place. No, I just loved SCHOOL. The generic version. As in big yellow buses, metal lunch boxes, new spiral notebooks and freshly sharpened pencils. SCHOOL. With all the shared rituals and routines and objects that make five different places more or less all the same familiar place in my childhood memory.


This was nowhere more true than third grade. Third grade was an absolute highlight. Because in the third grade, there was this cabinet. It seemed to reach all the way to the ceiling. And when a student opened it, as we were allowed to do at three set times per day, there were stacks and stacks of canary yellow lined paper; paper that we kids were allowed to freely take as we needed it for all our school work. It was always filled to the brim, it always cheered me.


I am certain that cabinet sparked my classroom organization/supply sharing philosophies. Mind you. I wasn’t a poor kid. I always had lots of school supplies, even some high end ones, like folders with Shaun Cassidy and such. So, it wasn’t about the actual paper. It was a great abundance, which is lovely, but more than that, there was just something about the reliability of the thing.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat. 


Kids. Crave. Predictability. They like to know what to expect and even more so, what is expected. What I loved about the paper cabinet was the “knownness” of it. No surprises. Every time, the same result. One of the best ways to create an effective and well-functioning classroom is to be utterly boring in your actions and reactions, especially in your consistent responses to student behaviors. Reliable. Like that cabinet of paper.


This means you create clear and consistent classroom rules, expectations and routines. Then STICK to them, without wavering, day after day.  One piece of the same yellow paper on top of another, again and again and again. If you do so, eventually, your classroom simply manages itself. At first, this takes more repetition and patience than seems humanly possible. However, if you consistently show your students that, no matter how many times they open the metaphorical cabinet, it will ALWAYS be yellow paper, they will soon take you at your word that you MEAN it when you introduce any routine or expectation.


This may sound mind numbingly dull to you as an adult. You might be one of those keep-em-guessing types who likes to surprise your class and keep things EXCITING!!! I am all for that. In your lessons… not your management. Believe me, they WANT your rules, your classroom routines and especially your high expectations, coupled with genuine, earned praise.


Your students want to know they can count on you, to set a course, AND then hold the line by captaining the ship that is your classroom. Students thrive when there is a safe home base. After all, classroom management, in the end, isn’t for the teacher, though it certainly makes your life more bearable. Classroom management is FOR your students. They are counting on you. Bore them. They will love you for it.



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