“I’m so ready” is the phrase most often repeated these days by teachers, parents, administrators, and even students. Educators across the country are ready to return to some sense of normalcy. Parents recognize the value of teachers and the magnitude of the pressure on their shoulders. Teachers miss hugs and smiling faces greeting them in the mornings. And everyone misses the learning and recognizes the missed opportunities brought on by the pandemic.
But what now? A year after virtual learning, frozen computer screens, mixed with quarantining—the time to return to school and needing a pencil and paper is finally here again! How can you ensure you’ve positioned your son, daughter, or student for success? The answer is easy: Begin with Rituals and Routines.
Rituals and routines are those necessary actions that create purpose and organization, and when done so frequently, they become innate. For example, when I walk into a meeting, the first thing I say is “Good morning” and take out my paper and pen to take notes. When I’m driving and want to change lanes, I turn on my signal light—without thought—to notify other drivers I’m moving in front of them. Both are necessary actions that serve a purpose and are done in a specified order. How does this relate to children?
Children need to know what’s expected of them, and what better way to provide a level playing field than by being intentional in your approach? For example, parents wake their children each morning for school at about the same time so they don’t miss the bus. This is a routine. The ritual of walking to the bus stop at the same time ensures you’re at the bus stop before the bus arrives. The tardy bell ringing at the same time is a routine and if it catches you not in class, you serve detention. The homework assigned that fosters further learning at home is a ritual most students have come to anticipate, whether they complete the assignments or not.
Rituals and Routines in the Classroom
In anticipation of the beginning of a successful school year, follow these three classroom rituals and routines to get you off to a great start:
1. Be intentional. Prepare your lessons in anticipation of what students know, need to know, and want to learn. Be knowledgeable about your lesson and your intended objectives to adjust and shift to the varying instructional needs of your students. Be able to differentiate your instructional practices so that equity and equality around personalized learning are available for each student. This year, unlike others, will find students with more varying ability levels, which will require greater discernment to ensure lessons aren’t being taught generically down the middle in hopes all students will eventually get it.
2. One of the biggest pitfalls I observed when I was a school administrator was the absence of Structured Classroom Management Plans. Ensuring there’s a consistent and well-known process for addressing both inappropriate behavior and rewards for good behavior is imperative. In the absence of a well-developed plan which is communicated to all students, chaos inevitably erupts. Once chaos ensues, it’s oftentimes difficult to reestablish rituals and routines. Just as important as it is for teachers to address inappropriate classroom behavior, it’s also necessary to address appropriate behavior. Both actions serve as models for what’s suitable behavior. Focus on developing a plan that reinforces positive behavior for optimal success.
3. The most important ritual and routine is related to your well-being. Emphasis on your social and emotional health is critical. In my role, I have the pleasure of working with districts across the country. A superintendent last spring from North Carolina said he needed support programs for his teachers. Yes, he needed them for his students but to his surprise, he needed support for teachers, as well. The ability to manage your own health and self-awareness of your feelings allows you make to make meaningful connections and relationships with others—your students and peers.
Being mindful is the key. Set aside time each morning to prepare for the day and all that it’ll bring and then do likewise at the end of the day. Leave work at school. Be mindful of your feelings so you can be supportive of all those in your environment. And when in need, reach out! Never hold all the weight of what’s going on by yourself. That’s why the flight attendants’ pre-flight instructions remind you to put on your oxygen mask first before you help others.
This is a new school year that you can approach with wide-eyed enthusiasm. Yesterday and all the previous years are in the rearview now. Set your rituals and routines in the classroom and make the best out of this school year!
Education Research Director, Core Literacy & Early Learning
Dr. Vytas Laitusis
Education Research Director, Supplemental & Intervention Math
Associate Partner, ICLE