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Classrooms Need Rituals and Routines — But Don't Get Carried Away

By Brian P. Gatens July 18, 2016

Sometimes we need to think and talk about the grand ideas and attitudes that drive our work as teachers, and then there are those other times when we need to think about things in a much smaller scale. Recognizing that seemingly little, subtle actions can ripple through our classrooms is essential as we work to foster supportive and learning-centered classrooms.

Classroom rituals add order to a classroom but you don't want to get carried away with routines.For example, when was the last time you thought about your classroom rituals and the routines that they create? A ritual is something we do all the time in the same way — like raising a hat in greeting and shaking hands when we meet people. In the classroom, rituals help establish an atmosphere and a culture where students want to be there and want to learn. But over-reliance on rituals also can lead to boredom and disengagement.

Here’s how to find a good balance on classroom rituals:

Recognize the value of routine

Rituals are more than a daily reminder of the hows and whys of your classroom. They also:

  • Give students consistency in their learning and routines to help center their thinking.
  • Reduce anxiety so students can be open to class content.
  • Create a flow in their school day.

By contrast, a lack of routine — disjointed lessons, inconsistent behavior expectations — fosters a harmful, unpredictable class environment.

The right approach to classroom rituals starts with beginning every class the same way. Suggestions include meeting and greeting each child at the door, and making a quick spot check to make sure they have all the required materials. Other things include verbally reviewing the entire lesson before beginning your instruction, or having students copy down the homework at the very beginning of the class. When students know what is coming next, you’ll find that the class flows smoothly.

Avoid the brain-deadening downside of routine

An overdose of regularity creates a classroom where learning becomes too rote and unexciting. It’s essential to find a clear balance between just right and too much.

Look at student body language. Are they slumping in their seats? Fidgeting with their items? Looking through you or out the windows?

It’s good to do the same thing every day to set up student learning, but boredom can easily set in. There is no prescribed length or method for student routine; it needs to be class-specific based on student need and overall class dynamics.

Ritualize celebrations

Build into your classroom practice time and space to recognize successful students. Hard workers, good classmates, high grades and overall contributions are all worthy of recognition. If you build that into a weekly (or monthly) ritual, you will help to foster a classroom culture where students feel supported and valued.

Try to give attention to as many students as possible, and make certain the students know the value of being recognized. If a child can’t yet succeed, help them to do so by giving guidance and showing them what they need to do.

Work with grade-level teams and colleagues

The larger the group practicing a routine or ritual, the stronger the impact. Work with your subject- and grade-level colleagues to help create wide-ranging practices that can involve larger and larger groups of students.

Examples include quarterly class meetings, beginning each class the same way and expecting the same formatting for homework. When students move from class to class and know the expectations are similar, they will approach their learning with a sense of ease that otherwise wouldn’t be present.

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