EL Education.

Collaborative Culture: Routines

How can routines help students take greater responsibility for their classroom, themselves, and each other?

"I like routine. It enables me to improvise." –James Nares

Our approach to classroom management is based on the premise that students learn to make good choices independently and hold themselves accountable for their behavior. Self-management is always a process in need of refinement. Establishing routines is an essential part of this process. Routines give students a roadmap for important moments during their day and allow them to internalize and take ownership of their choices and move quickly into new learning experiences. This internalization, engagement, and ownership is achieved through the mindful scaffolding of routines. 

Learning Target

I can explain how routines support students to take responsibility for their classroom, themselves, and each other. 


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Practice: Transitions

Learning Target

I can explain how repeated practice and execution helps students master transitions.

What It Is 

  • Transitions are any point in the instruction when students must switch focus from one activity to another.
  • All good transitions share the same characteristics.  They are timed, practiced, and purposeful.
  • Some examples of transitions include:
    • Students coming in from the hall to begin formal instruction in class 
    • Whole-class instruction to group work
    • Instructional conversation to silence
    • Planned instruction to spontaneous "teachable moment" instruction
    • Planned instruction to unplanned interruption (phone call, fire drill, emergency visitor)

What It Looks Like

Lisa Zeller and Deb Ortenzi, seventh-grade teachers at World of Inquiry School in Rochester, New York, plan and implement effective transitions that help their classrooms run smoothly and support their students' independence.   

Why It Matters

  • Respectful, active, collaborative, growth-minded learners do not waste time on transitions.
  • Students on their journey to self-management require a growth mindset; they understand that transitions are a skill to practice and improve upon.

Practice: First Five Minutes/Last Five Minutes

Learning Target

I can explain how the first five minutes and the last five minutes help organize and focus the whole lesson.

What It Is 

  • There are multiple ways of structuring the first and last five minutes of a class period to have both academic and practical value.
  • These times should be not only crisp, predictable, and academically effective, but structured so that the teacher simultaneously can accomplish details such as attendance and homework collection in a consistent manner.  

What It Looks Like

  • Students have a quick, independent, meaningful academic assignment to do directly upon their entry into class (e.g., bellwork, bell ringers, entry tickets, "Do Nows").
  • Brief surveys, or prompts that ask students to describe a personal experience that illustrates the learning target, all serve to personalize the work and honor the students' individual selves.
  • A brief and guided "re-set" before starting or completing their learning might include three deep breaths, a quick stretch, or a mini-meditation to allow everyone to be more receptive to a new set of information and directions.

Check out the video below for one strategy for the last five minutes, the Exit Ticket.  This video features Rich Richardson's eighth grade class at Expeditionary Learning Middle School in Syracuse, New York. 

Why It Matters

  • The first five minutes set the tone for organization and focus for the whole lesson.
  • The last five minutes are a vital chance to check for understanding and make the next steps and homework clear for students.

Practice: Paper Management

Learning Target

I can describe how effective systems help students manage papers for all kinds of purposes.

What It Is 

  • Papers are living records of a student's thinking and effort over the course of time. They are essential reflection tools and records of growth.
  • Good paper management requires simple, effective, student-owned and strictly defined routines.

What It Looks Like

Check out this video for smart ideas regarding how students can help organize and maintain documents in the classroom.

Good systems help track and keep student work organized in your classrooms.

The classroom is most effective when systems are in place for students to manage papers for all kinds of purposes:

  • Storing paper and cardstock of multiple types that students can access
  • Handing out paper assignments
  • Collecting student work, forms, permissions
  • Returning student work
  • Storing assignments in student binders
  • Storing student work in a categorized system in binders and portfolios
  • Tuning up student binders and portfolios

Some specific suggestions include:

  • Create a crate system, organized by class, with folders labeled by student names. Make checking the folders part of your first-five minutes/last-five minutes routine.
  • Color-code your handouts so that each type of paper is a different color: notes in blue, homework in green, and so on.
  • If you choose portfolios in your classroom, develop consistent routines for organizing student work. Time should be dedicated at regular intervals for "portfolio tune-ups," where students clean up and organize their portfolios.
  • Digital documents will require their own set of handling, storage, and backup routines. Just like paper routines, digital document standards and routines must be taught and practiced, and "tune-ups" of digital desktops and files must be scheduled regularly.

Why It Matters

  • When students hold both themselves and each other accountable through clear routines for keeping their papers neat and organized, they embody the collaborative and active characteristics of the self-managed classroom.
  • Paper routines put the responsibility for paper management on students, not the teacher.
  • They also teach students that papers are not "one and done" items: they are treated respectfully, and used multiple times as students grown in their learning.

Practice: Student-Led Guidelines for Using Materials and Space

Learning Target

I can explain why students should participate in creating guidelines for materials and space in the classroom.

What It Is 

  • In classrooms where resources are readily available and students use them effectively and prudently, substantial time has been spent creating guidelines for the use of these resources. Those guidelines are most powerful and most closely followed when students themselves have contributed to their creation.  
  • Teachers can establish non-negotiable guidelines regarding safety or propriety to start the process. After this, however, students are capable of working with you to create (and perhaps later revise and improve) rules that allow for the fair distribution of resources and keep areas in the classroom useful and safe.

What It Looks Like

In her book Teaching Children to Care (2002), Ruth Charney highlights five steps to introduce children to materials and guide them through a process of discovery:

  • Bring students' focus to the material or space you want them to discover.
  • Spend time noticing the material or space.
  • Allow students time to explore the material.
  • Once they have explored, discuss further noticings and generate ideas about how to use the material.
  • Have students suggest or come to agreement on the "rules" they want to set up for using the material.




Why It Matters

When students are respected with real responsibilities and held accountable for those responsibilities, they often step up in responsibility. Students who help create and enforce guidelines no longer see rules for materials and space arbitrary and unfair. 

Practice: Classroom Responsibilities

Learning Target

I can list different classroom jobs that will help students take responsibility and pride in their classroom.

What It Is 

  • By creating classroom jobs for students to handle regularly, teachers invite their students into the running and maintenance of the classroom. It creates one more dimension of real-world learning for the students on their journey to self-management.
  • Students learn responsibility and take pride in their classroom, and can be much more effective and efficient than a single teacher trying to keep on top of things.

What It Looks Like

The nature of job charts depends on the needs and routines of the classroom. Some jobs you might see on a job chart include:

  • Areas: floor, chairs, tables, desktops, counters, play area, cubbies, coatroom, lockers, windows
  • Supplies: art, science and math, paper shelf
  • Classroom library
  • Classroom plants and animals
  • Portfolios and student files
  • Bulletin boards

Why It Matters

There is perhaps no simpler way to enact the central tenets of a self-managed classroom than to have jobs available for students. Jobs open the door for active, collaborative contribution by the students to the health and well-being of the classroom community. Students demonstrate respect for the learning process and for others by completing their jobs to the best of their abilities and growing through their effort; teachers demonstrate respect by trusting their students with the tasks.

Dig Deeper

Synthesize & Take Action

For Teachers...

  1. Create a plan for introducing routines to your students gradually at the start of the year. Be mindful of the amount of information that students can process at a given time. 
  2. Model the routines.  For example, model transitions, summarize and repeat steps with students.  Call on them to demonstrate and model the routines.

  3. It is the middle of the year and a new student joins your classroom. How might you and your students introduce the routines to the new student?  

  4. Think of a time when your routines were disrupted, for example, during a fire drill. What routines might you draw upon to guide students to regroup and refocus on the work?

For School Leaders...

  1. Conduct instructional rounds in leadership teams and collect evidence of strengths and areas of growth in implementing various routines. How might you use the data you collect to reflect on the routines your observed?
  2. Make available sustained professional development opportunities for teachers based on the observations you make during instructional rounds. How might you differentiate professional development for teachers who are at different stages of implementing successful routines?  
  3. It is important to establish strong home school connections. How might you include the children's caretakers in a conversation about routines?