Monday, August 15, 2016

Classroom Procedures That Build Character

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Having classroom policies and procedures in place just makes life easier for any teacher. I'm not exaggerating when I say that when I could find a way, I would create a procedure for any activity. Even with so many "official" ways to do things, my classroom did not resemble a cruel dictatorship. Instead, days went smoothly because students knew what was expected of them (and why), and they took ownership of their actions. The key to the effectiveness of my policies and procedures was to provide structure and consistency that produced independent, responsible, and disciplined students. 

Most recently, I taught 5th grade. It's such a great age, in my opinion, because you can challenge students to be more independent and prepare them for the rigor and personal responsibility necessary to navigate middle school successfully. I requested a lot of my students, probably more than some were used to having to do on their own, but the reward for many was pride and more confidence in their abilities. In addition, most of my procedures and policies did not require my participation, which built independence in students and freed me up to focus on instruction, planning, and other tasks.

So here is the process I used to develop my classroom policies and procedures:

Step 1: Develop your policies before you develop your procedures.

Before I could create procedures for any activity or task, I needed to develop the policies that would inspire the procedures. The difference between a procedure and policy is that a procedure outlines the step-by-step way to complete a task while a policy explains the guidelines and goals upon which the procedures are based. To create policies, I first had to develop a vision for the environment I wanted in my classroom. My vision was what I described earlier: structure and consistency that built independence, responsibility, and other productive characteristics in students. My policies (and consequently my procedures) reflected this vision. From the moment students walked in the door in the morning until the moment they walked out, students knew what they were supposed to be doing. If you know what you want your classroom to feel like, it makes it easier to determine the procedures required to make it that way. 

Here are some examples of how I incorporated opportunities to build independence, responsibility, and discipline into my procedures:
  • Students' morning routine involved very little--if any--talking by me. Every morning, I set a timer, which was projected on the front board. The timer usually started counting down 10-15 minutes before the start of school at 9:00. Students had until the timer went off to complete several tasks that were also posted on the board. Once the timer went off, if students weren't in their seats--barring any special circumstances--the consequence was being dismissed for lunch recess two minutes later than the rest of the class. (Trust me when I say that the consequence was effective.) While I'm sure it seemed very high-pressure to students at first, eventually, they became pros and thrived on the challenge of beating the clock. Here's a sample list of tasks usually included during the morning routine:
    1. First, students had to do attendance and lunch count by moving their avatars on the SmartBoard to the Buying or Packing column. 
    2. Next, they put away belongings and checked supply needs for the morning. They brought all supplies to their desks so that they did not have to get up during class to get anything from their cubbies.
    3. After that, they looked at the board to see what homework, forms, and other take-home items needed to be turned in and where. 
    4. Then, they placed any notes to me in a basket next to my desk or any notes to the office in a bag that went down to the office daily each morning. 
    5. Next, they looked to see what the bell work assignment was. For example, sometimes it was a journal entry. Other times, it was a review activity from a lesson we had done earlier in the week.  It changed daily. 
    6. After the bell work assignment was completed, students read silently or worked on other assignments.
  • My absence procedure was probably one of the most challenging procedures that the class had to handle, but it went a long way toward building personal responsibility and problem solving skills. I created an absence work box (a portable file case) in which I placed tabs for each subject. Behind each tab was a folder with a day of the week listed on it. I would place all handouts (with students' names written on them) in the absence box when students were absent. They would have to take their agendas to the box; copy missed assignments from a printed copy of a list of work we completed while they were gone; and collect work from the folders of the days that they missed. To help them think through the process, I also created an absence checklist that walked them through the absence procedures. 
  • To encourage personal responsibility, my procedure for borrowing supplies involved me giving students two passes per nine weeks that they could use to borrow items from my cabinet. Once they used the passes, they could not borrow again unless they earned additional passes through our class rewards system or the new nine weeks started. When students borrowed items, not only did they have to present a pass, but they also had to give me a piece of collateral--something of value--that I could keep until they returned my items. Most of the time it was a notebook or textbook for a subject that they didn't need at the time. However, sometimes, I ended up with some interesting treasures such as PE shoes or class restroom passes (another character-building procedure I came up with!). 

  • To encourage problem solving, students were required to seek "Three Before Me" when they had a question. Instead of first coming to me, they had to ask a seat mate, look around the room for the answer, and/or ask another classmate.

Step 2: Make an inventory of activities and tasks.

To inventory what exactly my students routinely did every day, I ran through a typical day in my mind. From that, I made a list of activities and tasks that students undertook on a regular daily or weekly basis. Using this list, I knew what I had to develop procedures for.

(As a disclaimer, it's difficult for new teachers to anticipate some of the activities and tasks that your students will complete each day. Asking veteran teachers is one way to get ideas. I developed my list of procedures and policies based on two days of observing the teacher whom I was replacing, reading A LOT of books, and visiting A LOT of Web sites. Once I had a year under my belt, I added and edited my list.)

Step 3: Divide and conquer.

Once you have your policies developed and your list of activities and tasks completed, organize them by category. I organized them into the following segments: 
  • beginning of the day; 
  • during class; 
  • preparing to leave class; 
  • outside of the class; 
  • student organization; 
  • classroom technology; 
  • classroom library; 
  • breaks in instruction; and 
  • end of the day. 
I also had a general classroom category for activities and tasks that occurred throughout the day. Work on one category at a time. Chances are that some procedures lead into other procedures so keep an extra notebook on hand to jot down ideas, issues, and other considerations that come up.

FREE RESOURCE ALERT! Here's a printable checklist of tasks organized by category that I used to create procedures for my own class.

Page border courtesy of Quantum Leaps
Step 4: Create procedures that reflect your own policies and vision for the classroom.

Creative and successful ideas for how tasks can be accomplished in the classroom are everywhere. Keep in mind, though, that you must decide what will work best for you. I have implemented ideas I've seen elsewhere before that I thought were really great. And they were...for someone else's room, as I found out. I ended up discontinuing them before the year was out. Make sure your vision for the classroom shines through your policies and procedures. Decide how independent you want your students to be. Look at your organization systems and see what procedures are needed to complement them. Ask yourself if you really need procedures for some tasks or if you're okay without them.

Step 5: Keep procedures simple.

Keep procedures simple so that students can easily recall what's expected of them. Most of my procedures were no more than 5 steps. 

Step 6: Label and post. 

One of the best purchases I made for my classroom was a label maker. I labeled almost everything, and this came in handy for procedures because the labels answered questions that I didn't have to, such as "Where does this go?", "Where do I put this?", and "Where can I find...?"  

Also, post procedures when you can. This is where, if you enjoy being creative, you can make colorful posters and reminders. This also helps curb the same questions I mentioned earlier. I posted mini-posters in the general vicinity of where some tasks took place (ex. drinking fountain, cubbies). I also had a dedicated area for class information where I posted other procedures such as those for drills.

Step 7: Take time to explain and practice procedures. 

The first week of school--no joke--I spent most of the days explaining and modeling procedures. Then, I asked students to practice them. Devoting time to students learning and applying what's expected of them goes a long way toward building the independence and personal responsibility that they need to have for the school year. Reinforce the procedures through quizzes, games, activities, and discussion. And do it often! I continued to model procedures aloud for several weeks after the year began just so students could see them in action and commit them to memory. 

Step 7 1/2: Take time to explain policies. 

The reason "because I said so" never sat well with me as a kid, and I'm sure things haven't changed for the latest generation of kiddos either.  By explaining why I set up procedures the way that I have, I found that students appreciate and buy into the classroom environment that I'm trying to create for them more readily. Kids can be very perceptive. When they see that rules and procedures aren't arbitrary or created by an adult on a power trip, many are willing to follow them because they believe that they were made for their benefit. 

Step 8: Be consistent. 

You can't expect students to follow procedures if you don't do it yourself. Consistency not only reinforces how to complete a task, but it also eliminates many gray area situations. Very seldom did my procedures or policies cause confusion. Perhaps students (and sometimes parents) felt some frustration at times, but I found that conflict resolution came much easier by having consistent procedures and policies to which to refer.

So now it's your turn. Do you have questions about any of my procedures? Any tips for teachers looking to create or improve their own? Leave a comment!


  1. Such great ideas and lots of details for getting your classroom ready for back to school!

    Renee from Science School Yard

    1. Thanks! It's so nice to be prepared on day 1 and to see ideas put into action!

  2. I love how you linked procedures to student growth! Win-Win is always the best!

  3. Great tips and organization. It is so important to practice procedures. Getting it right at the beginning of the year means you can enjoy the rest of the year. I am the blog after yours. I hope you have a good blog hop.
    Kimberly Scott Science


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