As we look forward to a new school year, now is the time to consider classroom rituals and routines. How do you want your classroom to run next year? What should kids do when they get to your class? How do you expect them to hand in work? What should they do when they have questions or need supplies? Now is the time to visualize the classroom environment you’d like to see next year, and plan for it!
Let’s start with entering the room. What will that look like? Will students go directly to an assigned seat? Or will they check a board for the day’s seat assignment? Will they pick up work on the way to their seat? Where should they put their bags? Do they start with a notebook? Or a folder? Whatever your plan is, it’s time to write it down. Make a note of your expectation – we will use it later.
Will students start right away with a Do Now? How much time will they have for that? Will it be graded? Handed in? Or written in a notebook? What happens if they don’t finish it? Will you go over it together? Again, make a note of your expectations.
What should students do while you’re giving the day’s mini-lesson? Should they be taking notes? Are there guided notes? When you release them from the lesson what should they do first? Are they allowed to work together? Or are they working independently? If they are working together, how does that work? What does it look and sound like?
What should early finishers do? What about those who don’t finish? How will you wrap up your class? Will there be an exit ticket or activity? When should they clean up? Is there homework?
Of course there are all the things that happen in the middle of the period as well. Bathroom use? Pencil sharpening? Supplies? Manipulatives? How do all of those things work in your class?
Have you taken notes on your expectations? Now it’s time to turn those notes into your classroom syllabus or course document. Some people call this a student contract. Whatever you call it, many of these expectations need to be in there.
Most course documents include grading policies, and a list of the units that will be covered in the course. They usually include a list of necessary supplies and some basic classroom rules. Often there is a space for students and parents to sign, indicating their understanding of these expectations. In addition to these critical elements, why not include some information on how class will run?
On the first days of school, many teachers go over their course documents in class. It’s a great way to communicate these expectations and gain input from students on how class will run. Of course, nobody will remember or understand those expectations until you actually start working and enforcing those expectations. But if you have them in writing somewhere, and you’ve gone over them, it’s easier to say “this is how I expect this to get done”, and you don’t get flustered or forget in the moment.
For example, the first time a student says “I didn’t get the classwork done today”, you don’t want to scramble to figure out what they should do. If you’ve thought about it ahead of time, you’ll quickly remember, “hand in what you’ve finished and see me before school tomorrow to finish it together”, or whatever your process might be.
If you have a co-teacher, taking the time to list these expectations and talk about them is even more important. You need to be on the same page about these topics or there will be confusion about how class runs. Ask your co-teacher what they think about your policies, and what they would like to add or change. Take the time to have that conversation before the kids show up.
Finally, once you’re all working together in class, make sure you stick to these expectations. Putting them in a course document will not make them happen. You’ll have to enforce them. If you expect students to hand in classwork in a certain bin as they are leaving the room, you’ll have to enforce that the first few weeks of school, until they get the hang of it.
There are so many things to think about when it comes to how your classroom runs. The more you can think about ahead of time the smoother things will run. Teachers already experience decision fatigue because they have to answer so many questions and make so many decisions in a single teaching period. If you have structures and systems in place, there will be fewer questions and fewer decisions to be made. Summer is a great time to think about all these routines.
Click here to find my collaboration rubric and accountable talk stems! These help to set expectations around student group work!
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