Making It Work: Positive Procedures (updated)
As you anticipate returning to the classroom this fall, do you find yourself wondering how to better manage student behavior? Are you asking yourself how to get your students to stay engaged with your lessons and stop all of that talking and goofing around? Harry Wong states in his book, The First Days of School, “the number one problem in the classrooms is not discipline; it is the lack of procedures and routines.” Positive procedures can transform your classroom and the way you feel as a teacher.
When you teach procedures to your students, you are teaching them how things are to be done, not announcing rules. Procedures need to be taught and practiced. And practiced and practiced. Teaching procedures is an investment in time, not time wasted. As Fred Jones shares in his book Tools for Teaching, “Investing time in teaching classroom rules, standards and procedures is a classic example of proactive versus reactive management. Prevention is cheaper than remediation. But prevention is not free. You must invest ‘up front’ if you want to reap the dividends for the rest of the semester.”
I spend most of the first two weeks of school teaching procedures and establishing expectations. I don’t spend time lecturing about the procedures, my lesson content is purposefully designed to include the procedures that need to be practiced. I’m sneaky like that.
Design your procedures by first visualizing the end result. Work backward and break the procedure into steps. Go through these steps yourself or with a colleague, following your instructions as if you were a student. You may want to establish routines and procedures for the following:
● Entering the classroom
● Exiting the classroom
● Transitioning to/from different areas of the room
● Waiting times (when the teacher needs to talk to a student or there is an emergency)
● Getting into groups
● Getting tissues
● A visitor in the room
● The teacher needs your attention
● Passing out/collecting
A common procedure in my general music classroom is distributing bell sets. When it is time to get bell sets the first row is invited to stand, follow the leader to the windows, walk along the windows, take the first available bell set, walk along the back of the room, continue along the far side of the room and back to their place in their row. The subsequent rows are trained to be ready when it is their turn. Students may open their bells sets, but I make it very clear that if they choose to play their bells before they are invited, they will close their case and not be allowed to play. This routine may seem strict and a little mean, but it actually keeps me from having a teacher freak out! After this procedure is learned and practiced (many times) it allows the distribution of instruments to go very quickly, avoids student tantrums about who cut somebody in line, who took someone else’s bells and little Sally crying because nobody ever gave her an instrument! And we can all live happily ever after and get on with the good stuff – making music!
I use Love and Logic as my classroom management philosophy. Love and Logic has taught me to use positive techniques to establish a calm and effective classroom in which I strive to prevent behavior problems instead of react to them. I try to offer students choices that are within limits that are OK with me. I model problem solving and if a student causes a problem I give them a chance to fix it before I step in (if I have to intervene they are guaranteed to not like the outcome!) These strategies take careful training and consistency – on the part of the teacher. If your expectations, procedures, and systems are consistent students will feel safe, respected, calm and motivated. That may require hard work on your part.
My mom used to tell me that you catch more bees with honey than with vinegar. There are times when swift consequences for unacceptable behavior are called for. However, using routines and procedures often allows us to stop the continual discipline struggle and have the freedom to compliment and enjoy our students and their music making. Students themselves are more comfortable with predictability and routine. In his book Tools for Teaching, Fred Jones says “The teachers with the best run classrooms spend most of the first two weeks . . . teaching procedures and routines . . . do it right or do it all year long.”
Fort Island Primary School
Copley-Fairlawn City Schools
Holly shared her ideas for teaching procedures, please share yours in the comments below. Your ideas might be just the thing someone needs to Make it Work in their classroom.