At the beginning of each school year, it is important for teachers to address the following four priorities. Giving these critical areas the time and emphasis they deserve will pay big dividends for you, your students, and their families.
Effective Training and Modeling of Routines
- Establish procedures, routines, and expectations so students know how to function efficiently and effectively in your classroom. Train your students to perform these routines and procedures during the first 4-6 weeks of the year.
- Build a cooperative classroom culture through icebreaking and team-building activities so children feel safe and comfortable and see one another as friends and assets, not rivals.
- Establish a sense of purpose in your class so students understand why it is important to come to school each day and work hard.
- Communicate with your students’ families about the new year. Build a sense of excitement, optimism, and possibility as you share your plans for the coming months.
In this article I focus on the first of these priorities. Specifically, I share two key points that will maximize the effectiveness of your training efforts so that performing class routines and procedures becomes second nature for students.
First, the most common mistake teachers make with regard to training is ending the training period prematurely. Sometimes we start a school year fully committed to training our students thoroughly, and the first two weeks go extremely smoothly. The kids respond well to our efforts, and they do not appear to need additional practice. After three weeks the routines become more automatic, and we are tempted to bring our training period to a halt. After all, there is a great deal of content for the kids to learn, and the thought of using the time we had earmarked for additional training to focus on that content is an attractive one. As attractive as this thought may be, however, resist this temptation. The extra time you take to build a foundation for quality learning will pay off. Effective training cannot be rushed.
Second, holding students accountable for their performance with these expectations is an important aspect of our training efforts. For example, when the kids are working quietly at their seats, how quiet do they need to be? Does the room have to be completely silent? Can the kids talk softly? Can they talk loudly? To address this issue, I created a chart called the Acceptable Volume Indicator, AVI for short. The AVI includes three levels of noise: conversational tone, whisper, and complete silence. During the first week of school, I introduce the AVI to the kids, explain its purpose, model each level, and describe the types of activities for which each level will be used. Then, as the kids begin their work, we practice all three levels. Once we have practiced the levels sufficiently, the students need to know that I mean what I say. The first time the kids exceed the acceptable noise level, I call their attention to it. If it continues to happen, we take a few moments to discuss the issue as a class. I continue to model what I expect, hold simulation activities, provide more opportunities to practice, and explain why it is important to adjust to each level. When students understand the purpose of a procedure or routine and see the value in it, they will commit themselves to performing better.
Do not accept unacceptable performance. Once you do, you are sending a message, loudly and clearly, that such conduct will be tolerated. There is no room for indecisiveness or vacillating. Decide how good is good enough and stick with your decisions. As author Philip Crosby puts it in his book Quality Without Tears, “The determined…[teacher] has no recourse except to make the same point over and over until everyone believes. The first time a deviation is agreed upon, everyone will know about it before the ink is dry. ‘Oh,’ people will say, ‘there are some things that don’t have to be right.’ ” If, for example, a student hands you a paper without his or her name on it, hand it back. If your kids return to the classroom from lunch making too much noise, have them go back outside and line up again. Such actions are not punishments. They are effective responses that let your students know that you mean what you say. Over time the children will rise to your expectations. By consistently holding them accountable early in the year, you will make the rest of the year much smoother. An initial investment of time will not only save you considerable time down the road but also result in a more productive, more focused classroom environment.
About the Author
Steve Reifman is a National Board Certified elementary school teacher, author, and speaker in Santa Monica, CA. He has written several books for educators and parents, including Changing Kids’ Lives One Quote at a Time andEight Essentials for Empowered Teaching and Learning, K-8. Steve is also the creator of the Chase Manning Mystery Series for kids 8-12. Each book in the series features a single-day, real-time thriller that occurs on an elementary school campus. For weekly Teaching Tips, blog posts, and other valuable resources and strategies on teaching the whole child, visit stevereifman.com. You can also follow Steve on Twitter.