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10 Procedures for an Amazing School Year

Have you started your back to school planning yet? Do you map out the procedures you need to teach? Here are my top ten procedures to teach during the first week of school so that you can have an amazing school year!

Procedure 1: Bathroom! 

Up first is probably the most important one: bathroom break and behavior! Believe it or not, you and your students can waste a lot of time without a well thought out procedure in plan for bathroom usage. Before school starts, take a look at your schedule. Think about when there would be “natural” breaks throughout the day for students to use the restroom. I have four that are built into our school day (before school, snack, before/after specials, and lunch/recess). During all of these times, I am not teaching important content and most of the time we are close to a bathroom during these transition times.  

You can also have a very well thought out bathroom procedure for when you are actually molding their precious brains and they just can’t hold it. We have a one kid rule in my classroom. Only one kid can leave the room at anytime for anything (so that means bathroom, drinks and lockers). We keep a small dry erase whiteboard by the door and they write their initials on it when the leave and erase it when they come back. I make sure to talk a lot about when it is a “good time” to use the bathroom or get a drink.  

When I am giving directions- not a good time.When you are working on an assessment- not a good time.When we are frantically packing up for the end of the day- not a good time.When we are doing a brain break- not a good time.  

They start to figure it out and I never really have an issue with students leaving my room throughout the school year. Remember, if a procedure is not happening the way you want it to… Reteach.

Procedure 2: Lining Up 

Do your kids fight over who they stand by in line? Do they all want to be in the front or in the very back (that middle must just be an awful place to be)? I thought that by fourth grade, my students should have lining up figured out… oh boy was I wrong! So, on the very first day of school I plan about 10 minutes to practice lining up before we leave for our first specials. This gives us plenty of time to practice, assess and practice again!  

My line up procedure is pretty simple. We have two line leaders for the week (our jobs change weekly). When I say it is time to line up, the two leaders get up first and get to the front of the line. Then they both put their hand up in the air to signal to the rest of the class that they can line up now. We talk about how it is CRUCIAL for the line leaders to wait until the class is quiet before they put their hand up. Once the hands go up, there is no more talking until we arrive at our destination. That means my students are lining up quietly, there is no fighting and it only takes a matter of seconds before we leave the classroom.  

As far as the fighting for positions go, I have tried a few things. I have done “line orders”…. which I hate. It is just one more thing on my list and I hate that I have to worry about changing it up once in a while. I have also tried boy/girl and the kids despise that more than I do. So I address the issue of fighting about which spot you get at the very beginning of the year. We practice walking from our desk to the line and wherever we end up is where we end up. There is no holding places for the next person. After lots of practice they get pretty good at it. 

Procedure 3: Walking in the Hallway

For me, this has been a nonissue. I tell my students that when we are in the hallway we need to keep our voices off and our hands to ourselves because there are other kids learning. Your responsibility is to get from point A to point B without disrupting the learning that is happening in other classrooms. 

I always ask them if they remember a time when they were really focusing on something in their classroom and all of the sudden there was loud talking and goofing off happening in the hallway. Most of them can remember a time (and there are even some eye roll sighs included with their memories).  

There are a few tricks that you can use to help keep your students quiet in the hallway. The first is to pick a “mystery walker”. By your classroom door, keep a small container with every child’s name in it (I have seen little poker chips be used or slips of paper). At the beginning of the day you pick a child’s name to be the mystery walker. The picking is done SECRETLY so no one knows who it is except for you. While you are in the hallway, you can say positive things like “our mystery walker is doing a great job today” or “wow this class is quiet, maybe you are all mystery walkers”. By keeping it positive you are reinforcing good behavior instead of bringing attention to negative behavior. 

Another thing that I have seen teachers do is “bubbles”. This is where when you leave your classroom you tell your students to “put a bubble in”, which means to pretend you have a bubble inside of your mouth. You have to keep your mouth shut so that the bubble doesn’t escape or it doesn’t get popped. This works great for younger kids. Don’t forget to remind them to breathe while they are walking… that would not be a good thing.

Procedure 4: Turning in Work

This is another “believe it or not” type of a procedure. Think about how many times a day you have students turning in papers, notebooks or other work. It can be a lot. Even turning in homework can be time consuming if not done with a solid procedure. If you think about all these times, I would bet that each one of them takes about two minutes to completely turn in all the work. What if you could shave those two minutes down to just thirty seconds. Let’s take a closer look at this.

Pretend you turn in work 5 times each day. That is ten minutes of your day that is potentially wasted. When we turn in work, we get it done in 30 second (or less) and we are focused ready for the next thing. Take the time to really look at your classroom design and figure out the best way for students to turn in work.

In my classroom, we have tables. Each week the four (or five) kids sitting at the table select a table leader. This leader is the one to get supplies or turn in work. When we get finished with an assignment students place it in the middle of their table (with the papers all going the same direction), table leaders grab the work and walk to the bin to turn it in. Super slick and only 5-6 students are actually getting up and moving around the room instead of all 20-25.

Homework turn in can be a bit tricky because students are all coming at different times. When my students arrive they put their agenda (our school requires them) in their cubby and grab their pencil box. They bring their homework from the night before and their pencil box to their table. They put their pencil box down at their spot and their homework in the middle. If they are not the table leader, they then go have a seat for morning meeting. If they are the table leader, they wait at the table for all of the work to be turned in and then they grab it, turn it in, and join us for morning meeting. It works super slick!

Procedure 5: The Pencils

Oh the pencils. I think every. single. teacher. has hated pencils at one time or another. Call me crazy, but I have a new found love for mechanical pencils. Students still buy a pack of regular pencils for their back to school supplies (because let’s face it… we still need them), but I also buy each kid a mechanical pencil.  

Each week, we take a few minutes from our morning meeting to check erasers and add lead to our mechanical pencils. I SHOW them how to use the pencil correctly (so they are not breaking the lead constantly) and we set up a storage plan. They usually store them in their pencil boxes. We talk about why we use mechanical pencils, how they save on time in our classroom and that they are only for using at school (not to take home).  

We keep little cups for sharp/dull pencils too. If a student doesn’t like using a mechanical, because not all of them do, they can still use a regular pencil. If a student looses their mechanical, because they will, they can still use a regular pencil. Depending upon the group of students, I might hand out new mechanical pencils once a quarter or only when a student needs one. Pencil sharpening is done by me during my prep or lunch. Students can’t seem to figure out how to use one without breaking it…

Procedure 6: Moving Around in Our Classroom

My students are constantly moving around the room. We sit in the front for morning meeting, we sit in our small group area, we sit in our mini-lesson area, we sit with groups around the room… we are never in our spots for more than 30 minutes. Think about yourself when you are working, can you sit at a desk for hours on end? I know I can’t!  

Develop a signal (either you decide or have your students help you) for “clean-up and back to spots”. Practice this again and again and again. Talk about the expectations you have for cleaning up as well as what they should do when they get back to their spot (no, this does not mean free time to talk to your neighbor or play catch with an eraser across the classroom).  

In my classroom, I have a small bell that I ding if we are working with groups and the room is a bit noisy. The bell can be heard by everyone. I have also seen wind chimes be used. Make sure you not only practice what it looks like to go back to your spots, but also what it looks like to move to small groups, mini lesson or morning meeting. You can even time your students to hustle them up to show them how quickly they can clean-up and get back to their spots. Adding a little competition… works like a charm.

Procedure 7: End of the Day Clean-Up

We talked about procedures for when students are arriving in the morning, but what about the end of the day? This time is so important too! I know of teachers that start getting ready for the end of the day TWENTY minutes before dismissal… twenty minutes y’all. That’s crazy!

Think about what jobs you need your students to do at the end of the day. Things like putting their pencil boxes away, stacking chairs, cleaning desks/tables, getting backpacks, putting materials away, etc. All of these need to be ordered and explained to students. You wouldn’t want your students stacking their chairs before they wash the desk/table would you? Once you work through the exact procedure, explain it all to students. I recommend making an anchor chart for the process so that students can refer to it the first few weeks to make sure they are getting everything done.

In my classroom, my students start by cleaning up around their spot. They get their agenda and write what we did for the day all the while I am standing by the door. Once they have finished writing in their agenda, they stack their chair and put their pencil box away. On their way out the classroom door, I sign their agenda and they go out to get their belongings. Once they have gathered all of their things they come back in and sit in our morning meeting area and talk quietly with their friends. The whole clean-up, writing in agendas and packing bags takes less than 7 minutes (we have even done it in under 5 when we don’t have snow pants and other winter clothing to contend with). That means we just added around 13 more minutes back to our lessons! I would call that a success.

Procedure 8: Read Aloud Expectations

This is one thing that often gets missed during back to school procedures. I love to read to my students. I love to read novels during our snack break and picture books for mini-lessons. In our classroom, we have clear expectations that help us have a successful read aloud time. The first thing we make sure of is that we are not playing with things at our desk. That means our snack too. Students eat, cleanup and sit back down… all the while I am reading! Since they are doing it quietly, it does not disrupt others and everyone can still hear me read.  

When we are at the carpet (my whole room is carpet… not sure why I call it that) for mini-lessons, students can sit up however they please, meaning they don’t have to be criss-cross-applesauce (have you ever tried sitting like that for 15-20 minutes??). The expectation is that they are sitting up on their own, not leaning on or touching classmates, and their bodies are quiet. For some reason, my girls always like to braid each other’s hair during picture books… um no, just no. We kick that habit to the curb from day one. If you set up clear expectations for your read aloud, students will come to love this time each day and they will even look forward to it because it will give their brains a break! 

Procedure 9: Quiet Time

This is my absolute favorite time during our day. We have quiet time right after lunch (my students go to recess and then to lunch). When they come into the room, I already have the lights turned off and quiet music turned on in. We practice what it will look like to enter the classroom and get to work. For our quiet time, I have two options written on the whiteboard, usually reading and one other activity. I would say that 99% of the time my students choose reading. Quiet time takes place in our desks. They are not allowed to lay around the classroom. This is a rule because when you are at your desk, you are less likely to talk to your friends. If you are huddled in a corner lying by each other… the whispers will begin.  

If you can spare just a few minutes (minimum of 5) from your afternoon schedule… do it. My class is so focused and re-energized after our quiet time. It gives me a chance to conference with students or work on interventions. We practice our procedure from the very beginning. Students will come in and look at the whiteboard to see the options, then they will sit down and get to work. There is no talking until quiet time is over and it is so soothing! I have had subs say that they are amazed at how well my students respond to quiet time and their behavior after is fabulous. It really gives students’ brains a time to calm down and recharge a bit before we continue with our afternoon. Our signal to clean-up from quiet time is the music being turned off. I turn the music off and then walk over to turn the lights on. From the time I turn the music off to the time I get to the lights, students are expected to be just about cleaned up. 

Procedure 10: Emergency Procedures

You can’t forget about your emergency procedures. I teach them all on the first day of school (keep in mind I have fourth graders, if you teach younger grades… spread the emergencies out). At our school we have two different lock-down procedures, one with intruder and one with a threat. Both of these lock-downs have different things that we do. We go over both of them. Since they are fourth graders, it is more of a behavior review and giving the new locations than anything else. Secondly we talk and practice a tornado drill. We don’t get many tornadoes where we live, but they can (and have) happened so we have to be prepared. This is a super quick procedure and we only spend a few minutes practicing.  

The emergency procedure that I take the most time to practice is the evacuation/fire drill procedure. We talk about the reasons we might need to leave the building, the exits we use, what to do if our first route is not an option, what Mrs. Dahl does vs. what the students do, what to do when you get outside etc. For our evacuation drill, my students exit and I am the last one to leave the classroom (to make sure that every child is out). I then shut my door. My students quietly leave the building (without talking), use the crosswalks to get to our stopping point. When they arrive at our stopping point we get in two lines. When I get there I am able to easily count to see if I have all of my students.  

Make sure you discuss with students what they should do if they are outside the classroom when a drill happens. What should they do if they are on their way back from speech or the bathroom? I tell my students that they go out the nearest exit and notify the first teacher that they recognize that they are separated from their classroom. They give their first name and my name to that teacher. If I was ever worried that one of my students was left in the building, each exit point has an adult with a radio. We can communicate between all the exit points to ensure that every child has made it out. That is why it is so important to tell a teacher that they exited from a different door.

So there you have it, ten classroom procedures that will save you time if you teach them from the very beginning! Not only will they save you time, but they will help your classroom be an amazing environment to learn in! What procedures are you planning on teaching during the first week of school?

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