Take Time to Set the Parameters

One of the issues that often confronts teachers is a belief they must teach from the minute they are assigned to a class of children. This ‘quick start’ impulse dominates at the commencement of the year, the beginning of a semester, the start of a term or whenever a teacher takes responsibility for a new class.

It seems teachers feel the need to jump in from the first bell, beginning to teach in a ‘go, go, go’ manner. Some launch as if there is no tomorrow. Others may approach the task a little more steadily, but it seems the majority are for making an impact from the first minutes of the first day the class becomes their responsibility.

Routines and procedures are the linchpins on which sound classroom development is predicated. Jumping into teaching ‘boots and all’ before taking the time to establish classroom protocols, is a recipe for disaster. While much of the routine establishment does not directly impact on academics, processes and procedures help in the holistic development of children. This can help develop positive attitudes to work and learning. Classroom environment and atmosphere is critical to helping children and students develop work and study habits.

The establishment of classroom routines is a prerequisite need and should not be overlooked. Once in place, procedures become operational precepts, leading in turn to good learning habits. Children’s attitudes to classroom care, property management and respect for resources, builds atmosphere and promotes harmony within the learning environment.

Part of sound routine and procedure, are the working habits developed with and for children. These habits go beyond the classroom because they are about individual training. Positive attributes include the following and many more could be added.

* Desk habits including pencil hold, paper position and writing posture.
* Use of loose sheets of paper including storage in books and files.
Putting things away properly.
Using bins for rubbish disposal.
Cleaning up when activities are completed.
Care when using the toilet.
Keeping hydrated.
Washing hands.
Talking and working in a way that avoids excessive noise.
Correct school bag and lunch box storage with bags and boxes stowed by habit at the start of the school day or at the end of lunch eating periods. Included is refrigerator opening and closing procedures, recess and lunch eating habits, rubbish and wrapper disposal.
Movement habits in and around school buildings including places for walking, running and playing. Hats on and off depending on the area of play. Lining up and readying procedures at the end of recess and lunchtime are part of the ‘movement and motion’ strategy.

The establishment of routines and procedures MUST be the NUMBER ONE PRIORITY in any classroom at the start of the school year. Once these processes are in place, structure for meaningful teaching and learning is facilitated.

Good classroom habits and practices complement to class rules and procedures, ensuring that things go smoothly. The time initially spent on this ordering returns tenfold in benefit terms because interruptions and disruptions are avoided. Boundaries are established. Expectations that have been discussed and programmed, unfold in a practical day-by-day manner in support of teaching and learning.

The pity is that as children move up the grades or experience different teachers on rotation, the impact of training can lapse and attitudes can deteriorate. Reinforcement and gentle reminders are necessary. The most important is the need for the school principal or delegate to ensure that incoming teachers are aware of the need to establish procedures with the class in the ways already discussed. Each teacher needs to develop his or her set of overall routines, procedures and expectations. They are not inherited and don’t pass by right from one teacher to the next.

Teaching is spoiled and learning diminished if classroom management structures are not in place and practised. Teachers can be too busy valiantly attempting to control, manage and discipline, to teach.  They wear themselves to frazzles and finish  up with a group of students who range from the very disruptive (those setting the class social agenda) to the very frustrated (those who want to learn but are not taught because the teacher is too preoccupied to teach).

Process, procedure, rules and regulations can be reinforcing and satisfying. That satisfaction embraces students, teachers, the class as a community of learners and the school as a whole. It is ever so important that the initial time teachers spend with a new class is a ‘steady as she goes’ period.

Set the Scene with the Children

A losing strategy for any teacher can be an attempt to set the classroom scene without involving the children. It is essential that class rules and procedures are established by teachers working with children. Classes need to own their governance. Rules won’t work if they are dictatorially set and enforced without empathy. Collectivity, with the group contributing to and therefore owning governance is the smart way to formulate classroom procedures.

Recognising the constituency of the class is important. Without having the right approach to classroom management, a teacher can become an isolated and unappreciated individual. No teacher wants to be overbearing to the point of being ‘sent to Coventry’ by his or her class.

First and Second Level Ownership

The way classroom procedures are developed confers ownership. Children who feel a part of the ownership stratagem are more likely to be compliant and act in accordance with agreed procedures than otherwise would be the case. (There will be exceptions but aberrance may not be tolerated. Recalcitrant individuals are likely to draw quick responses from the class collective. Rules break down and lose impact when there is little commitment and scant adherence on the part of children.

* Developing rules ‘with’ children rather than ‘for’ children is essential.
* Expectations need to be encouragingly rather than punitively worded.
It follows that if children are participants is creating classroom procedures they will regard them in a primary rather than a secondary way.

All this points to the need for teachers with new classes to spend time in a ‘getting to know and understand you’ phase with children and students.

Part of this will be (or should be) development of the class environment through shared shaping of agreed procedures. Several essential precepts come to mind. They are simple, based on common sense and easily overlooked.

* Class members need to be organised.
Pupils are best predisposed toward being organised if they share in creating organising structures, including classroom rules and procedures.
Routines established should be based on fair and predictable management and administration. There is a need for impartiality and even-handedness in all situations.
Teachers can’t teach control but should teach in a way that gains control. This happens best in classrooms where the principles included in this paper are applied.

In a Nutshell

Rules, organisation, routines and procedures are important. They need to be established by teachers working in a way that allows the first days and weeks to be spent on getting to know and understand the children and students in their classrooms. This is ever so important and ought not be overlooked.

Once ground rules and relationships are in place, teachers will be able to teach with the confidence that couples successful teaching with meaningful learning outcomes.

Teachers who go full on from day one and ignore the need to establish sensible management strategies with children, will pay a high price. They may well set themselves up for a long, tiring and frustrating teaching stint.

Henry Gray


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