Changing routines and procedures mid-year

January 9, 2012

in ideas from my book, tips and tricks, your questions answered

Changing classroom routines and procedures mid-year: it's NEVER too late!I recently received this email from a reader of The Cornerstone book: “I purchased your ebook today and am really enjoying reading it.  I have one question…much of the book so far concentrates on establishing procedures and routines at the beginning of the year.  Do you have any suggestions for implementing your program now that we have already been in session for 4 months?  How can you effectively help your students transition into this new routine without spending TOO much time introducing and reinforcing?”

I thought this was a great question worthy of it’s own blog post, because many teachers are wondering about this issue in the middle of the year. Plus, it gives me a chance to repeat one of my favorite mottos:

It’s NEVER too late to change something that’s not working. You don’t have to wait for next year and an entirely new group of kids. You can–and should–modify your procedures, expectations, and teaching strategies ANY time they are not effective, at ANY time during the school year.

Don’t worry that making changes to the way you run your classroom will confuse the kids or cause them to question your authority and expertise. The key is to articulate to students what’s not working and how you plan to fix it. Tell the class your observations about the problem and share your solution.

First do some brainstorming about what you’d like to change and how you’d like things to run. Post a question on my Facebook wall or share it with the members of The Cornerstone message board forums if you need suggestions.  Then have a conversation with your class about it. Don’t try to sneak in a new procedure and act like that’s the way you wanted things done all along. (Yeah, I’ve tried that. They weren’t fooled.) Just level with the kids.

There are two approaches you can take to the conversation. The first involves a 5-10 minute discussion with the class, the second takes less than 2 minutes. I use the more in-depth method for big stuff, like changes to the homework routine, centers and small group rotations, or the class reward/reinforcement system. If it’s something that the kids really care about and that you’ve spent a lot of time training them to do and getting their buy-in, then it’s worth taking the time to involve them in creating new expectations.

For big or important changes, you could tell them:

I’ve been thinking about how we manage __ in our class. I’ve noticed a problem with ___. Have any of you noticed this happening? Why do you think this might be a problem? I’ve been trying to think of good solutions. What are your ideas for fixing this problem? That gives me an idea…you’ve touched on something I was considering over the weekend. What if we tried ___? It would work like this: ___. Would you be willing to try that out for a week or so? Let’s practice it, and then we’ll have another conversation soon to talk about how it’s working. We can always make changes then. Thanks for working together to come up with solutions. I know that our class is going to run more smoothly now that we’ve had this conversation and decided to try something new.

For minor classroom procedures–getting drinks from the water fountain, passing in papers, pencil sharpening, etc.–I don’t spend that much time, because the kids don’t care as much. I’ll just say:

I noticed that our procedure for ___ isn’t working very well these days. Sometimes I see ___ happening and ___ not happening, and that causes a problem with ___. So I’d like to try this instead: ___. Does that makes sense to you? Let’s practice right now. Team One, can you model how to follow this new procedure for us? Everyone, let’s watch Team One as they try this out.

If needed, I’ll narrate what I see and provide feedback.

Here’s an example. Once during my second year of teaching, I became completely fed up with students writing down the wrong page numbers for homework or forgetting to copy all of their assignments. I considered lecturing them. I considered punishing them. And I considered revising my homework routine. I realized I wasn’t really setting students up for success, and came up with some ways to improve the system. The next day I told the class:

I’ve noticed that many people are copying their homework assignments incorrectly. I want to change the way the assignments are displayed and copied in order to help you. From now on, the list of assignments will be on this poster, instead of on the transparency, so even if you come late to class, you can see what needs to be done. I will also be giving you five minutes instead of three to write everything down and have a partner check over what you wrote. Here’s how that’s going to work.

I modeled exactly what I wanted, and guided the kids through it. And instead of having 5 kids miscopy their assignments each day, I started having 1 or 2.

One last really common scenario I want to address: when kids seem to be forgetting procedures and getting sloppy with them. You know what I’m talking about: the supply bins have things missing from them, the coat closet is a disaster area, and the books in the class library are being misused.

There are a few different approaches I’ve used to get the kids back on track:

  • Point it out: “Hey, I’m noticing that ___ isn’t going as smoothly as it was at the beginning of the year. Who can remind us what the procedure is for that?”
  • Give a verbal reinforcement when kids do things the right way: “You remembered to __! Thanks for taking care of our classroom.”
  • Show the kids that I’m paying attention to the way they handle classroom routines and appreciate their efforts by giving a now-that reward: “The entire class did ___ exactly the way we have been practicing! I didn’t have to give a single reminder! Since we didn’t have to stop to wait for people to do the right thing, we’re going to have a few extra minutes before recess. I think I’ll take you outside early. Thanks for being such responsible students.”

If it seems like ALL of our procedures have fallen by the wayside, I have a heart-to-heart with the kids about why the procedures are in place and how we rely on one another to keep the classroom running smoothly. Then I play a procedure review game to go over the expectations and make sure we’re all on the same page. Often I realize I’ve had a bunch of new students transfer in and they’ve never been properly taught our routines. So, I grit my teeth and provide lots of modeling, practice, reinforement narration, and performance feedback.

Class Rules Review Games

I’ve found that my attitude has the biggest effect on how smoothly our routines and procedures go. If I’m mentally creating a list of all the things the kids have done wrong, predicting how many ways they’ll screw up next, and bemoaning how poorly they listen and follow directions, I get discouraged and take it out on the class. When I choose to be patient and take the time to involve kids in creating and practicing expectations, I reconnect with the feeling that we are a team. My thoughts create my feelings, my feelings affect my behaviors…and my behaviors determine whether students feel stressed out or capable of doing their best.

So, that is my advice to you: recognize what’s not working and choose to create change. Be supportive of the kids as they adjust and keep an optimistic attitude about the outcome. Each year you teach, it will get easier to find what works and what doesn’t. Don’t be afraid to experiment! Take the kids along on the journey with you, and learn together.

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Angela was a classroom teacher for 11 years and currently works as an instructional coach and educational consultant based in New York City. She's created a webinar series on pro-active behavior management and has written 3 books for educators. Check out the blog and free teacher resource pages for photos, tips & tricks, activities, printables, and more.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tamara Bailey January 9, 2012 at 7:47 pm

Hi, Angela. I really enjoyed your blog about changing classroom procedures mid-year. I teach third grade and one thing new I’ve tired since the holidays is NOT having assigned seats and assigned places in line. I wanted the students to have more choices about their classroom so they are allowed to sit anywhere they want from day to day. There is a “catch,” though. If they are causing a problem, such as talking, not working, or bothering others then I will move them. This has worked remarkably well and students are very well-behaved because they want to keep sitting next to their friends. I also do the same thing when we line up to go somewhere. We have a line leader, but everyone else may get in line wherever they want. If they are causing the problem then I will move them. My students have shown remarkably more responsibility and we are all happier.

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2 Angela Watson January 12, 2012 at 12:31 pm

Ooh, I really like this, Tamara! I was never brave enough to try it. How does that work in terms of students moving their supplies/textbooks?

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3 Tamara Bailey January 14, 2012 at 8:45 am

I keep all of my workbooks on a shelf and get students to help me tear out the pages we need ahead of time. I keep their writing folders and journals in bins and helpers pass those out, too. Storing the workbooks and folders helps keep them in better shape and they last the whole year. Our students switch classes so most of their stuff stays in their backpack. They keep their Reading book, library book, pencil pouch, and Homework folder in their desk and that’s all. So if a student has to switch desks in the middle of the class they don’t have that much to take with them.

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4 Jill January 9, 2012 at 8:33 pm

Thanks so much for posting this! I’m a first-year teacher and so I feel like I change procedures semi-often. It really feels good to know that it’s okay to do that if I know that what I’m doing at that moment isn’t working!

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5 Angela Watson January 12, 2012 at 12:31 pm

Absolutely, Jill! I changed procedures all the way through June. Classroom dynamics shift with transferring students and the class’ attention span/ability to focus changes throughout different times of the school year, so it I think it makes perfect sense to keep adapting! :-)

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6 Miriam January 15, 2012 at 7:41 pm

I really appreciated this post and the last one about learning being the most important job of kids. I whole heartedly agree that my attitude has a huge impact on student compliance to procedures and routines. It also resonates with me because I might be moving classrooms in a few weeks. While this feels daunting, I think my students will be great if I come up with some good procedures for moving to our new home!

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7 Rebecca January 17, 2012 at 9:02 pm

Thanks for this post! I’ve been following your website since 2005 when I graduated college and got my first teaching job. It has been a lifesaver! I was wondering about your thoughts on procedures, expectations, etc in regards to team-teaching. I’m teamed up with a different teacher than the last several years, and her style and expectations seem VERY different from mine, even when we conference and agree on procedures and expectations. I feel like this confuses the students. What can I do to help them?

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8 Helena January 17, 2012 at 9:09 pm

We really have to change the things that are not working and are not making any good changes to our life…

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9 katrina79 January 23, 2012 at 9:14 am

Hi…I have learned a lot from this post and I even make this as my motivation to change for the better…

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10 Fevi January 24, 2012 at 12:14 am

Hi…Thanks for providing some realizations here…Great job for all of us then…

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