Notes from the Road

During a recent school visit, I marveled at the myriad tasks and responsibilities that comprise the first few minutes of the school day.  Watching one teacher calmly direct all this activity reinforced for me the value of establishing and practicing routines.

It’s 9:00 am on a Monday morning in November. The teacher stands by the door as children in a fourth grade classroom filter into the room. The teacher welcomes each child, using a calm, friendly tone. The students’ movements are purposeful, and while there is much that must be done during these first few minutes of the day, the pace is energized but not rushed.

The morning message that greeted students in the hall is carried by a student to its perch on the chart stand.  Several children gather around to read the message and complete the related task, which provides a prompt for a writing lesson: “If you were asked to write a personal narrative about your weekend, what would be the title of the piece?” The intriguing titles they share build enthusiasm for writing later in the day: “Starting a New Sport,” “My Driveway,” “Saturday is Hard,” “Weekend of Paradise.”

The teacher has moved to a kidney-shaped table in a front corner of the room, where she checks homework and reading logs. She finds opportunities to connect with children as she notices and comments on their reading selections, “I’m noticing that you enjoy reading fantasy,” and “I want you to consider adding a little non-fiction reading into your repertoire.”

Children are hanging up coats and backpacks, taking chairs down from the desks, delivering homework to the finished basket, and recording tonight’s homework in notebooks.  When children finish the morning tasks, they begin reading independent books.

The teacher notices one child who looks like he doesn’t feel well.  “Are you feeling okay?” she asks. The child shakes his head and within seconds two children have offered to escort him to the school nurse.  Another child enters the classroom and the teacher greets him, then offers a quick reminder: “Where does your backpack go?” To everyone, she says calmly, “Your morning warm-up is to read silently.”

Two soft bells sound on the PA system, and students stand for the Pledge of Allegiance and the School Pledge, followed by a moment of silence.  When one child begins to move during the moment of silence, the teacher uses a gentle hand signal to remind her of the expectation for quiet and still bodies.  Another bell chimes and the teacher says, “Thank you, at ease,” and the class melts back into action.

Soon it’s time for Morning Meeting. “Come on back and join us for Morning Meeting,” the teacher announces and the class joins her on the carpet.  “This morning I’m feeling a bit antsy, so we’re going to do the Ankle Greeting. Who’d like to go second-to-last?”  A boy eagerly raises his hand and the school day is officially launched as teacher and children greet each other in an around the circle fashion with a lively ankle shake.

As this familiar—yet complex—morning ritual demonstrates, careful teaching of routines helps everyone begin the day calmly and purposefully. The scaffolding and positive supports that this teacher has provided enable her students to take ownership of and independently manage an impressive number of tasks and skills in a short window of time. And the school day has just begun!

Babs Freeman-Loftis is a Responsive Classroom consultant and coauthor of Responsive School Discipline. She was assistant head of the lower school at the University School of Nashville for nine years.


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