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You CAN Teach Community, Procedures, and Content From Day One!

     I've been reading posts lately from newer teachers who struggle with how to teach essential classroom routines and procedures, begin to build the essential community, and address content from the first day of school.  A tall order!  Some question whether they should chose one over the other and if it's even possible to do it all. I'm hearing:

"Should I really spend two full weeks just teaching routines and procedures?"
"When do I start teaching content? I'm afraid of getting behind right from the start!"
"I want to build our classroom community as soon as possible.  When do I start?"
"Which is more important: routines, community, or content?"
"Should I review routines and procedures every day? For how long?"

     These are valid concerns for any teacher. I believe whole-heartedly that you can teach all of those valuable routines and procedures, begin building your community, and start addressing content right from the first day of school!

How do I teach routines and procedures?

     You've probably heard the adage: Do it right, or do it all year long!  Teaching routines and procedures is critical to not only a safe, smoothly running learning environment, but is the gateway to all the good things that can happen during the year.  After all, if you can't get them into the room safely, you can't build a community or teach content.

     In order to be clear with children, have a clear understanding of expectations yourself. If your school or district uses specific terminology, always go with that. I use routine to reference the order or sequencing of your day. For example, our morning routine was always to enter the room, tell your teacher "hello", put up your belongings, make your lunch choice, and begin your Morning Work. To help them understand, I would tell students that we must enter the room before we make our lunch choice - that's routine.

     I use the term procedure to refer to a particular method for doing something. For example, everyone needs to return their coloring pencils after an activity. One procedure is to put the box into your desk. Another procedure is to put them in your backpack. A third procedure is for the table leader to gather and return them to a special drawer. Our procedure was for the table leader to return them to a drawer.

      Having efficient procedures can have a powerful impact on your overall classroom management. When your students know exactly how to perform certain tasks, they can work more independently and you will have to intervene less often.

     Be crystal clear on the procedures that you need students to follow. You'll need a procedure to gather and return materials, to form groups, to work collaboratively, to return assignments, to ask for help. Your procedures needn't be complicated; in fact, they need to be as simple and streamlined as possible. On the other hand, you don't want students to feel policed or like robots. There are many activities, such as returning a book to the shelf, that don't require a specific procedure. Give lots of thought to the procedures you do want. Talk to other teachers in your school and find out what works for them. A few suggestions that worked for me over the years:

-To gather materials: The table leader goes to the correct drawer, gathers, and distributes to his/her own table.
-To return materials: The table leader gathers and returns materials from his/her table.
-To turn in homework: As you unpack in the morning, take your homework to the bin on the counter.
-If you finish work early: Read quietly, complete another activity, or find an activity in the Early Finishers Notebooks.
-If you need the restroom outside of a scheduled break: Make the ASL sign for "restroom" and go!

     Be prepared to review, review, review your procedures. Spend part of every day reviewing and practicing for a minimum of two weeks.  Some teachers extend that to four or even six weeks, tapering off as time goes by. Consider having a refresher week just after Christmas and Spring Break.

How do I build my classroom community?

     Building a classroom community can begin before school even starts!  There are so many ways to let parents and students know about your commitment to a classroom climate that promotes inclusion, teaches kindness and caring, supports open communication, and encourages teamwork.

     Many teachers send out letters that introduce themselves, invite families to Back-to-School Night, and give important information.  This is a good opportunity to include your plans to build a strong, healthy community.  Other teachers make phone calls and establish a personal contact.  These efforts are powerful strategies for starting the year strong.

     Your next best chance is the first minute of the first day of school.  A warm welcome to each student and parent starts the day on a high note, and also models how your classroom community rolls. Your first activities can focus on students' interests, their feelings, and their hopes for the year.  Sharing these responses later is fun and is an excellent time to teach  how to show respect for others.  Will you incorporate a Morning Meeting each day?  Do you have a list of team-building activities for the year?  These tools have an important place during the first days of school.

Can I address content on the first day?

     The short answer is: Yes!  The longer answer is: Yes, but keep it fun, review-oriented, focused on games, and full of movement activities. First-day content needn't be a dive right into lessons and practice. A math game is a delightful way to start the year!  It's a low-key way for students to start recalling skills and concepts from past years.  You can gather valuable insights on your new charges as you see how they play, where they struggle, and where they excel.

     A short science activity?  Yes, please!  Be sure to include a hands-on component.  My students always enjoyed a version of "How Many Drops Of Water Will Fit On The Head Of A Penny?" It's super easy and low-cost, but starts some great science conversations!

     Who doesn't love a word game?  I tutor students who love a version of The Pyramid Game. One player has a secret word. She gives clues to her partner, whose goal is to guess the word.  For example, Olivia's secret word is "book".  She'll give clues like "pages", "words", "published", "in the library". 

     Don't forget Social Studies!  Consider displaying a world map.  Let students take turns sharing where they've lived or traveled.  Try saying "hello" and "good-bye" in as many languages as you can.  There will be lots of fun connections as students get a view of our world!

Pull it all together!

     As daunting as it may seem, you CAN address all three of these critical areas from the first day of school to the last. On the first day of school, plan a good balance of getting-to-know-you activities, community building activities, housekeeping tasks such as confirming how each child gets home (I forgot this one year - a real disaster at dismissal!), explanations of school and classroom guidelines, and content-oriented games and activities. I always tried to include a read-aloud and a good number of movement activities, too.

     As you plan, make notes on the routines and procedures you will highlight for each one. Leave plenty of time to explain and practice each procedure. At this point, strive for quality over quantity. In my classroom, I would plan for activities like these:

1. Read Math Curse by Jon Scieszka; Procedures taught: Push your chair under your desk, move quietly to the carpet, sit in your own space.
2. Play math game "Contig"; Procedures taught: One game partner will go to the materials area and pick up dice, a game board, and dry erase markers.
3. Play "Sometimes, Always, Never"; Procedures taught: Push your chair under your desk, gather at the back of the room, move carefully, respect your classmates' space.
4. Go on a school tour for new students; Procedures taught: Walk to the back of the classroom as your table is called, line up behind the last person in line, walk quietly on the right side of the hall.
5. Play "Where's The Math In The Date?"; Procedures taught: Raise your hand and wait to be called on to respond. (This is different from other games where blurting answers is allowed.)

Be the student and go through each activity.

     I cannot overemphasize the value of actually role-playing your procedures before you teach them. You will often catch glaring problems that could arise when your students follow your directions. I once had an awful traffic jam - kids were backed out into the hall before 7:30 a.m. - because I failed to act it out myself first. I learned to carve out some practice time during the planning days before school started. I would literally give directions to myself out loud, then follow them to the last detail. I caught a lot of potential problems and was able to resolve them before I used them on kids. Whew!

     In all things, the best laid plans can always go awry. If you see that something is not working, be  honest enough to see it and flexible enough to change it. 

     I'd love to hear how you handle routines and procedures in your classroom. What works for you?

Growing Grade By Grade
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