Thursday, August 4, 2016

Priority #1 for Back to School -- Establish Classroom Routines

It's that time of year. The planning. The cutting. The laminating. The stacks of copied printables (worksheets) waiting to be sorted. The joys of Back to School!

For me, part of the fun of teaching is getting to recreate my classroom every year. What theme shall it be? Ocean, rainforest, The Wild West? The options are limitless. I get all caught up in the anticipation!

And then, I remember... I've told this story before, but I'll tell it again. It's just so stinkin' awful, it STILL makes me sick to my stomach, some twenty-odd years later.

My very first day of school as a brand-new teacher was a disaster. (O.K., so the whole experience was a disaster, but that's another story). I was incredibly anxious about setting up a thematic classroom. I was surrounded by amazing classrooms that had decor based on themes. (This was well before the days of Pinterest -- imagine how I would have done with that!)

One teacher had this elaborate teamwork theme based on how birds work together to fly in a V pattern, each taking a turn in the front. Wow. Seriously impressive.

I had no elaborate theme in mind, but a friend suggested I think about trees. They develop a network of support under the soil with their root systems. Perfect, especially since we were in Washington state. I constructed this amazing tree in the middle of my room. It was going to be a part of my discipline plan. (I think the idea was that the kids would each get a leaf to add to the tree when they had done something good -- man, what a lot of WORK!)

I spent weeks cutting out leaves, and thinking about the community I would build. I planned the first day to the minute, and designed amazing, engaging "get to know" activities.

Here's what I didn't do -- I didn't think about the logistics of the first day. I didn't know about the importance of establishing routines.  Lunch and recess were a disaster. (Duty? What's that?) Bathrooms? (Again?!?!)

The time came for the kids to leave. The bell rang. I opened the door. They left. End of a very long day. I went home and collapsed.  That night, the principal called me. He wanted to know how "William" had gotten home. I had no idea. I had opened the door -- he left. Well, it turned out that William was new to the area, and didn't know what bus to take. He hadn't made it home.

You can imagine how frantic I was. I had lost a child. On my very first day.

Fortunately, William showed up at home. The poor kid had walked.

I learned an incredibly important lesson that day. It's not about who has the cutest classroom. It's not about developing engaging lessons that will inspire the kids. It's not even about getting all the mandated assessments done.

The most important thing in the first weeks of school is about establishing routines. It's about what the kids will do when they walk through the door. It's about teaching them what your expectations are and giving them the tools to manage themselves.  It's about knowing how each child will get home.

Over the years, I've developed classroom resources that helped me to help the students manage the classroom. It got to the point, even in first grade, that I didn't have to do a whole lot of classroom management, because the kids handled it.  From taking attendance (clip charts) to assigning classroom jobs (job charts), the kids knew exactly what they need to do. And they did it.

I still love themes, and over the years, I've developed classroom management tools in lots of different themes. Here are a few examples.  Be patient with me...I'm working on making more editable, so you can customize them for your own classroom. In the meantime, you can find the entire at Tools for Classroom Management (Decor with a Purpose). If you see something you can use, but would like it in a different them, let me know!

 Attendance and Lunch Clip Chart

 Where Are We? Class Location Cards


Happy Back to School, 2016!


  1. Love this post - thank you! Creativity and an engaging environment is important of course and can be developed throughout the year, but getting the routines and structure right at the beginning is essential for a successful class.

  2. Yes, I agree that setting routines and procedures are super important.

  3. I totally is so important to establish classroom routines,,,practice and model over and over again! great post!