Make a Mark By Establishing Classroom Procedures

I'm not here to just to mark papers. I'm not here to leave a mark in a negative way. I'm in this classroom to forever make a mark on the lives of the students within my care and trust. But to get to the learning, I need to create a positive classroom environment. I have just a few rules but have quite a few established procedures so we can flow, learn, and level up together.

Sure there are lots of things not central to this theme of making a mark: grading, procedures, classroom management. All of these things may seem unimportant. However, as I'm a better classroom manager, we can move issues like people asking for computers, people wanting to go to the bathroom, etc. out of the way and get on to teaching. The way I see it, the less time we have to talk about side issues like going to the bathroom or saying “Mrs. Vicki, I need help” the more time we have for the real stuff.

So the routines and procedures I have in place are set up to use as few spoken words as possible.

Essential Routines

As you start school some of the most essential routines are:

  • How do you enter the room?
  • How do you leave the room?
  • How do we conduct class conversations?
  • How do I quickly, quietly get the attention of the class? (I use give me 5 – it works!)
  • How do students request to leave the room without disrupting things? (My students flip their cards to away, grab the hall log and write where they go and wordlessly hand me the log for sign off or clarification – they grab a pass and go and sign in when they return. Nothing said and business is handled. Plus I have a log seeing how long they are out and if the frequency is too much.)
  • How do I keep track of disciplinary issues so I don't interrupt teaching but can handle and improve the behavior later?
  • How will paperwork and grading flow between me and the students so it is current and provides proper feedback for ongoing improvement?
  • How will I encourage students to help one another?
  • How will we quickly transition?
  • How can students ask for help without a word? (My students flip their computer station cards from green to red – I can see at a glance who needs help and constantly rotate the room and work to help people.)

These are simple but important things to consider and they can be overwhelming. This summer I took hours to plan out my classroom procedures, talk them over with teachers and advisors, and determine how I'd help students know how to use these.

My classroom is a cleaner (See the pic taken last Friday seconds after my last class), more pleasant, more focused place because of it. We're getting more done and I'm spending more one on one time helping students who really need me. Part of this, of course, is also the LMS I'm using (Haiku Learning) and the in-flip method of teaching (hear the Every Classroom Matters show I recorded with Jon Bergmann on that.)

Any Day Can Be The First Day

And remember this – you may have already started school but if your classroom flow is not what you like. If you're frustrated and not getting their attention… If students aren't coming in the room and getting down to business – don't wallow in it. Learn and get things together. Start over.

Any day can be the first day. If something isn't working, reboot (as fellow teacher Tom Bennett from the UK says.)

I love Harry Wong's book, The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher, 4th Edition as my guidebook in this process but Fred Jones Tools for Teaching also has some great info on behavior management. As you get your classroom going, think through these things and tackle the problems you had last year with procedures so you can actually do something about them!

Plus I can tell you that this doesn't make your job harder – it actually makes it easier and will help you be less stressed! I didn't believe it either but yes, better procedures works.

Make every single year a better year! Level up! You can do this!

If you're interested in knowing my procedures, let me know which ones in the comments. They took quite some time to develop but are working so well! Share your problems and then work to create procedures. You can also give tips to other teachers! We can do this together. Let's help each other!

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Michelle August 23, 2014 - 4:50 pm

I’d love to know more about the red/green cards.

Mary Ann August 25, 2014 - 7:27 am

Yes, I would also like to learn more about the red/green cards and classroom procedures for entering and leaving.

Vicki Davis August 28, 2014 - 6:37 am

Hi Mary Ann – you’re another one! I’ll have to get this up and share it!

Chcheska August 23, 2014 - 8:05 pm

First day of school starts for me in a week, and I’ve been working with my 7th grade team to come up with team-specific and class-specific routines and procedures. Can you share more about tracking disciplinary issues, paperwork flow, and students encouraging each other?

Vicki Davis August 28, 2014 - 6:50 am

Wow! First of all – Ccheska – I’m sorry that the commenting I usually use on my blog (disqus) has broken and I just found your comment in the original wordpress commenting system so I haven’t responded as quickly as usual. I commented on some other posts about disciplinary issues. I will need to schedule a paperwork flow post as well — I like electronic paperwork but when you have it in the classroom it should flow easily. Every student has a folder – each class is color coded. I have a place to put their folders when they have work to be graded. I put the graded folders back up at the pickup location and keep up with this every single day. That way all of the paper is handed back every day — now I’m working on this same thing in Haiku which — because it isn’t in my face as much — sometimes I forget about it! ;-) I’ll need to write more on this!

Charlene August 23, 2014 - 10:52 pm

Thank you for the ideas. I really appreciate how you worded your opening paragraph. Is it okay if I use it with notation that they are your words? I would like to say something like, “Vicki Davis, whom I follow in Twitter, puts my thoughts into these words.”

Vicki Davis August 28, 2014 - 6:48 am

Sure, just link back to it – often people will put it in quotes on their blog and just link to the original. Go ahead! Thanks and let me know when you have your post up.

Marilyn August 24, 2014 - 7:26 am

Thank you for the words of encouragement! Love the idea of any day can be the first day. I am going back to classroom teaching have a 5 year hiatus and I’m excited! I’d love to hear how you get your students to work/help each other – I want to be more of a facilitator of knowledge. Thanks again for sharing your words of encouragement!

Vicki Davis August 28, 2014 - 6:47 am

Thanks, Marilyn – I had put a note on one of the other comments on this as well so you might want to scroll through the comments and see that as well. If a student is sitting beside another and they flip their card to red – I encourage, if they know the answer to help. I do have a rule – keep your hands on your own mouse! Helping means showing and coaching not doing it for them — that happens sometimes. You have to teach your students what it means to teach and help. They will find it easier (like adults do) to just do it for the other, but I strongly discourage that — each person should master and know how to do the task at hand.

Mary Ann Korson August 24, 2014 - 8:00 am

I would be very interested in seeing your procedures. I teach in a computer lab also, grades 3-12 for a small Catholic School.

Vicki Davis August 28, 2014 - 6:45 am

I will do that Mary Ann. Thanks for commenting.

Cindy August 24, 2014 - 8:14 am

What are your procedures for discipline problems so they don’t distract from teaching? I’ve heard of putting their names on the board but is there more. I teach middle school and will have 350 kids this year.

Vicki Davis August 28, 2014 - 6:45 am

Cindy, this is an interesting one. It is odd but I have so few discipline problems that it often is something that takes me aback when it happens. For example, students who waste time by talking typically I’ll have them in at break or after school to make up the time. That usually handles it with them. My sister who taught middle school put names on the board. You should never interrupt teaching to get onto kids unless it is a big deal. If I have students being horribly disruptive then I’ll ask them to sit just outside the door or by my desk so they can stop becoming a distraction for the others. Typically, though, I plan for them to come after school or before school. Extra time in the classroom usually solves the problem. But remember, discipline is for breaking class rules — when students break procedure, it is typically something you coach through unless it becomes such a huge problem that you have to move it onto the discipline ladder. We have a way of conducting conversation in the class so everyone gets a turn so talking is less of a problem this year than last. But, as you get classroom procedures it is amazing how much the discipline issues will go down. You’ll keep students busy with learning and they’ll not think of acting up. I’ve found that when boredom increases, discipline issues go up — not that kids are always bored, but it can be a cause.

Stacey August 24, 2014 - 1:02 pm

I would also like to know about the red/green cards and adapting them for use in a language arts classroom rather than a technology class.

Vicki Davis August 28, 2014 - 6:40 am

Looks like it is a winner! Something I”m going to have to write up and share!

Stacey August 24, 2014 - 1:06 pm

Also ,when you say -flip their card to away for leaving the room- Is that a separate card from the red and green ones. I would love to cut out the hand raising for going to the rest room/nurse etc

Vicki Davis August 28, 2014 - 6:39 am

So, Green is on the top of one side and then if you rotate 180 red is on the bottom – so that is just a top to bottom turn. Flipping over you get the away card and the “maintenance” for when a computer is down. It is all on one card. I’m going to have to share these templates, I think.

Stacey August 24, 2014 - 1:50 pm

Also I am interested in your procedure for kids leaving the classroom and the “away” cards. I’m assuming these cards are separate from the red/green cards used for getting help?

Vicki Davis August 28, 2014 - 6:38 am

Actually the “away” is on the back of the red green – I’m going to have to share these.

Araceli Tapia August 24, 2014 - 2:58 pm

Do you have some material or books in spanish?
Thank you.
I am “fan” of you!!!
Araceli Tapia.

Vicki Davis August 28, 2014 - 6:38 am

I don’t right now – I wish I did. What would you like translated? If it is a book, I can always ask the publisher.

Stephanie Dean August 25, 2014 - 12:46 pm

I’d love to know about the red/green cards too. I’d like to see them and how they are placed on the computer station. How do you allow students to help one another? It seems that when I allow students to help one another, I have too many students wanting to get up out of their seats.

Vicki Davis August 28, 2014 - 6:36 am

Yes, Stephanie. Actually I use these little business card holders taped to the wall. In terms of helping one another, I direct that – so everyone works but if I see a lot of reds, I may do a “give me 5” for some instruction time. Or, I may call halt and get those who have mastered what I’m teaching to help the others. Typically, with this method is ie enough for me – but if a student sitting next to them goes red, the others often will just answer the question. It is AWESOME. Wouldn’t do it any other way.

Elizabeth Rebecca August 27, 2014 - 5:49 pm

I would love to hear some more about how you start in a first lesson – what are the first routines you establish?

Lizzie’s Daily Blog

Vicki Davis August 28, 2014 - 6:34 am

Ok Elizabeth – I need to do that. I’m going to plan on that. Thank you for the suggestion!

Farah Najam August 28, 2014 - 3:25 am

Classroom management refers to all of the things that a teacher does to organize
students, space, time, and materials so that learning can take place. This
management includes fostering student involvement and cooperation in all
classroom activities and establishing a productive working environment.

Farah Najam August 28, 2014 - 3:29 am

It may take the students several weeks to learn the various procedures that are expected of them. Take the time to practice over and over again until they understand. Once they understand what is expected, then you will have more time to teach.

Vicki Davis August 28, 2014 - 6:33 am

That is so true. We have to constantly reinforce — at the beginning anyway. But it makes life so much easier!

Mindi August 28, 2014 - 3:44 am

Well said Vicki! I hope this post is widely read (and I’ve shared it to my Twitter with that aim in mind).

I am a great believer in clarity over class procedures and the approach that you demonstrate here seems to me to be spot on. I have encountered all too often the two opposite extremes in which the teacher either tries to rule by authority and threats or flounders in a sea of pure chaos! Neither of these approaches results in an active, functional and above all, enjoyable, learning environment.

However, if the classroom environment is carefully moderated by a sensitively devised minimum of mutually agreed procedures, there is a structure which is supportive rather than oppressive and really serves the best interests of students and teacher alike.

I have always called it ‘the classroom contract’ and start out by discussing, explaining and modifying the procedures with the kids. That way, they understand, they have ownership and they actively ‘sign’ the contract. It works.

I also like your point that every day can be the first day. So true!

Many thanks again for this.

Vicki Davis August 28, 2014 - 6:32 am

Thank you, Mindi. I know that classroom procedures aren’t “sexy” and perhaps not a “fad.” But they work incredibly well and leave room for powerful learning without all the junk.

Stacey August 28, 2014 - 7:20 pm

How do you use your “away” cards?

Donna Spoto September 1, 2014 - 6:02 pm

Any suggestions for reminding students what work they need to make up after an absence?

Joe M September 1, 2014 - 8:13 pm

Hello. I’m an education student, and I’ve seen, during observation, some computer use turn into chaos. Students who are there to work, work, but other students find ways to waste time, and quickly. How do you manage the students’ work and make sure they’re using technology for learning, rather than playing?

Michelle McDaniels September 5, 2014 - 6:47 pm

I love how you say that any day can be the first day because so often a teacher realizes that what worked with last year’s students isn’t working this year. It is ok to stop and say, “I need to change it.” Your “don’t wallow in it” is funny! It is so true, so many times you see teachers that are exhausted by the end of the day because students don’t have a routine and are constantly having to be reminded what to do or how to act. I am like you, if students don’t come into the room and get started on things they already know to do, it is frustrating. I teach 3rd grade and I try to keep a good routine with my students as far as classroom expectations, procedures, and behavior. I feel like each year I think of a better or more efficient way of doing things and it makes my life so much easier. I think sometimes teachers are afraid to ask for help. DON’T BE!!! Ask your team teachers how they run their rooms, maybe you’ll learn something. I still use things I learned from my master teachers during student teaching because it was a fast and effective way of doing something. Thanks for the tips, I really enjoy reading your blog!


Vicki Davis September 7, 2014 - 8:59 pm

Michelle – that is awesome. Every year should be more awesome. Our goal is growth – for our students and for us. I love your attitude and also – I’ve learned more this year from our PLC at school than every before. It is because we’re sharing ideas and learning from each other. What a great, reflective comment! It will help everyone who reads. I love it when teachers like you take time to share your awesome sauce with the rest of us. I feel inspired.

Andrea Mott September 11, 2014 - 1:20 pm

Thank you for sharing your procedures. Although I am not a teacher yet (I student teach in one year) I am in the classroom doing field experiences. I am always trying to find more insight on what works for different teachers, because soon I will be there! I like the idea of nothing said when students need to leave the room. I have seen so many disruptions in the classroom, because of noisy, interruptive kids who need a hall pass!
Also, I love your attitude Vicki! I am a big believer in working together and bouncing ideas off of each other.

Vicki Davis September 12, 2014 - 6:15 am

Awesome, Andrea! Yes, having organized procedures helps the classroom flow. It also means that I cover so much more material when all the extra stuff is eliminated. The other interesting piece is that because I’m cutting down on when I have to speak, kids listen more when I speak. It is just a wonderful place to be. Good luck Andrea, please share your own journey!

Alice Azumi Iddi-Gubbels September 13, 2014 - 8:59 am

Dear Vicki,
I would be most grateful if you could share all your procedures and best practices with me. I discovered your site as I was looking for ideas to share with my teachers at the beginning of this school year, starting next Monday. And found your ideas just what I was looking for! There are also some great ideas from the comments section that would be very useful for us.
I am leading a primary school in a rural community in north-eastern Ghana (West Africa). Most of the teachers are new and do not yet appreciate the impact clearly set procedures at the beginning of the year can make. One of the concerns that has come out regularly is how to handle discipline issues in the classroom.

I would deeply appreciate it if you could share your essential routines and procedures, and other best practices on classroom management with us. I will endeavour to provide feedback as the teachers apply them in their classrooms.

Many thanks in advance for sharing.

Vicki Davis September 13, 2014 - 9:07 am

Hi Alicr! I would go but Harry Wong’s book “The First Days of School” ASAP! He is who helped me and is really the master- I would get his book. I will keep sharing these too . Good luck and definitely get Womg’s book and read the chapter on Classroom Managemebt. He also has some good videos. There is another great book Todd Whitaker’d book 10 minute PD ( it might be 15 minute PD) if you are the principal it will give you great things to share and teach your new teachers!

T Nguyen September 14, 2014 - 10:40 pm

I couldn’t agree more with you about running the class. When I started teaching a few years ago, I could not decide what the general norms were. I had trouble with managing the class. Now that I am a little more seasoned, my classes are running within the first week of school.

T Nguyen

Vicki Davis September 15, 2014 - 5:49 am

Over time most great teachers develop procedures! True! Thank you for reinforcing this important point! Have a happy Monday!

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Vicki Davis writes The Cool Cat Teacher Blog for classroom teachers everywhere