Alexis Blum, Spanish Teacher, Minster High School
Welcome back to school, OFLA! It felt like this summer flew by and August came and went before I had the chance to even think about school. If you’re anything like me, the start of this school year seemed to come very quickly and has been fast and furious ever since. The past two school years have had teachers across the country questioning their practices and changing their approach to almost everything in their classrooms. One thing that has kept me grounded in my classroom was establishing and maintaining classroom routines. By setting and maintaining my classroom routine, I also clearly communicate expectations for each student.
When I talk about classroom routine, I’m talking about the general outline and flow to my lesson. Every day, I greet my students at the door and they must give me a password to come in. The password, usually something related to class but sometimes just for fun, is established every Monday, and they repeat it for the entire week. If I’m not standing at the door, my students wait for me. This routine is established in the first week of school, and my students know that I hold them accountable to this routine. It is also nice because my students hold me accountable to this as well, calling to me if I’m not at the door, or bombarding me with passwords when I do get to the door. This has become such a common practice in my room that older students will shout out old passwords as they walk by in an attempt to help their younger friends or joke with their classmates about knowing (or not knowing!) the password.
Next, we start the day with a warm up activity. Again, this routine is established at the beginning of the school year, and students know that the expectation is to complete this assignment before we go over it together. This gives students some direction at the start of class, and keeps them busy while I do other tasks like taking attendance, checking in with students, or checking my emails. Students also know that we will go over this activity, so they are prepared to review with me after a few minutes. I also provide my students with a short list of what to expect for the day, so students know what the plan is. This is part of our routine, and helps students understand what the goals are for the day.
I do plan a lot of variety in my classes, but the general routine is the same each day. What I have found, and my students would agree, is that they know what to expect when they walk into my room and appreciate the structure that routine provides. This also helps control classroom management, as the expectation is clearly stated and it becomes part of the classroom culture. Maintaining routines also helps when I have a substitute teacher in my room, as my students already know what they should be doing and where to find the information. This routine has been vital for my students who are quarantined as well, as they already have an idea of what to do when they are working from home. Last year, I was quarantined for two weeks in early November. Our established routines in class kept students on track and they knew what to expect while I was out.
What might be the hardest part of maintaining a routine is keeping myself accountable. It is easy to say “Oh, I forgot to do this! Let’s skip it!” However, when you lose your routine, you lose expectations and classroom management becomes more of a problem. Getting back onto a routine can be so challenging, so I really hold myself to the standards I am setting in my room. Afterall, if I am modeling my expectations, my students will know what to do as well. As I write my lesson plans, I stick to my list of routines and it really helps me plan as well. As the only world language teacher in my district, I am constantly looking for ways to maximize my planning time. Maintaining these routines gives me a solid foundation for each lesson.
As Olaf says in Frozen, we could call this “Controlling what we can when things feel out of control.” Since the start of the pandemic, teachers have had to be even more flexible and adaptable than ever before. By establishing routines, we can at least set expectations and a little bit of structure for our students and ourselves.