positive procedures

Making It Work: Positive Procedures

Positive Procedures

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. 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 instruments

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!

My mom used to tell me that you catch more bees with honey than with vinegar. Using routines and procedures 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.

Holly Walton
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.

Holly Walton

Holly Walton teaches general music and is an assistant marching band director for the Copley-Fairlawn City Schools. She holds certification in Kodaly and Orff. She is in her 21st year of teaching.

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  1. Jill on August 25, 2016 at 4:16 pm

    “Sticks at Rest.” If students hold the two rhythm sticks together in their laps, no time is wasted telling them to stop playing. Holly – teaching procedures at the beginning of the school year is a wise use of precious teaching time! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Jeff on August 26, 2016 at 7:13 am

    This article is spot on! I stress this very point to new colleagues in my interns all the time. If your students don’t know what is expected, how can they meet the expectations of your classroo?. Too many teachers under-value that in the first weeks of school and then pay for it later. Teaching routines and procedures is job number one in my classroom at the beginning of every school year. One of the ways that I sell it to students is I tell them that they first need to be trained just like teachers before we can have a successful school year. After the training is complete, each student gets a sticker that says “Certified music class trained”. Because I use this tactic, I can later refer back to it in class when ever a procedure is key to what we are about to do. I will say to the class, “Let’s see if we remember our training”. I also focus on expectations rather than rules. Once a student came to school wearing a shirt that said, “I know what the rules are. Let me show you how to break them”. Rules typically are not specific to the teacher, but expectations are. I find that students are more uncomfortable with not meeting expectations then they are with breaking rules. Just an observation and a strategy that works for me.

  3. Jenn Fougere on September 5, 2016 at 8:45 am

    As a music specialist, we know how challenging it can be to get quick marks for each class within a day…I find it helpful to have each class sit in circle formation in Alphabetical order so that when doing dictation or some type of hands on activity, I can quickly gather 25 marks within a couple minutes by going down my class list checking Yes or No or some other marking system i.e.: E, VG, S, RS.

  4. Karen Sweet on February 8, 2018 at 12:36 pm

    I also like to practice with all classes at the beginning of the year, my expectations about entering and exiting the music classroom. We practice walking out in order and how to walk down the ramp outside my classroom – emphasizing walking! Then we practice where to stand and how to stand quietly before entering the classroom. It has made a big difference in beginning and ending the music time with my students!

  5. andy mcbreen on February 8, 2018 at 12:38 pm

    Each of My students grade Themselves at the end of every class. I agree or disagree with this and enter the grade in our electronic grade book. This holds Them accountable for Their behavior and participation.

    • Amber on January 18, 2022 at 5:41 pm

      Can you tell me more about how that works?

  6. Diane J. on February 9, 2018 at 9:28 am

    I struggle with Kindergarten music being within 10 minutes of the beginning of school. The K classroom teachers struggle to get to specials on time. The children have real difficulty getting settled in and needing to go to the bathroom, etc. I do not have a bathroom in my classroom, so the children would need to go down the hallway. We need to lock our doors all day long, so it is VERY difficult to get the students back on track when the student knocks on the door to get back in. Does anyone have Kindergarten music first and if so, how do you get them into your activities?

    • Deborah on February 9, 2018 at 7:44 pm

      Here is a suggestion. Keep the door locked. Yes! But put a flat magnet over the hole (the ones you can get from the pharmacy or real estate agents, etc) The kids can come in and out without interruption. If there is a lock down, just pull the magnet off the hole. Is it possible for you to go to the classroom to help get the kids out the door and on time for your class? If not, the minute you see your students turn on your music and have them enter walking the perimeter of a rug. I used a very long rope and made a rectangular shape. The students had to follow along everything I did…ways of walking, marching, hands in different places…anything which gets them focused on YOU and what THEY NEED TO DO, which usually is MOVE. I then had my students go to the carpet spots and continued on with class. It works like a charm. Just think it through.

  7. Deborah on February 9, 2018 at 1:44 pm

    It is also important to remember to review the expectations mid year. We may be thinking “we have been doing this all year, folks! or “really, you are fifth graders, you have been doing it since kindergarten,” but to the kids they follow the rules of the music class a couple of times a week, with a lot of other stuff in between. Posting expectations for lining up, how the books should look when put away, where completed work should be turned in is helpful both for the students and the teacher, because then you can just point to the sign.

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