The summer before my first year teaching I read everything I could about how to start the year strong. A lot of it was about being really strict at the beginning of the year to prove your authority. Some even mentioned not smiling until after winter break (I could never do that!!)
But here is what I learned: starting the year strong isn’t about starting the year mean. It is about procedures to teach that make YOUR life, and your students’ lives, easier the rest of the year.
It’s about setting clear expectations, teaching/communicating them to your students, and consistently reinforcing them to the point where they become second nature. Why do I think this is so important?
Why you should teach procedures at the beginning of the year
If there is one thing I’ve learned over the years is that pretty much all classroom management issues can be prevented by:
I firmly believe that individual behavioral issues are best fixed on a relational level. You can read more on how to build relationships with your high school students here.
On the flip side, I really believe that whole class behavioral issues can be prevented with well-established, communicated, and reinforced procedures. This is because set procedures allow you to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to classroom issues.
Now the question is, how many procedures is it necessary to teach? The answer: as many as YOU need to simplify your life. Everyone has different energy levels, patience levels, and capacities. For me personally, I really lose patience when I constantly have to repeat myself or a lab gets interrupted to ask if they can use the restroom. The more disturbances in your class bother you, the more procedures you should teach.
You want as much as you can to become automatic. The more you set, teach, and reinforce, the more the desired outcomes you want will become second nature for you and your students.
Not sure where to begin? Here are my 5 most essential procedures to teach at the beginning of the year to make your life SO much easier the rest of the year:
Procedures to Teach: Late Work
You need to have a consistent policy and procedure for handling and responding to late work. Note: You may have a school policy on this, so check first to see if there is something schoolwide that is required of you. I have been in a school that had a policy like this, so check first!!
If not, choose a policy that:
- Feels fair to you.
- You have the energy to reinforce.
Those two things are all that matters. What feels most fair to you may not feel the fairest to me. You also may have more energy to grade late work than I do or your neighboring teacher does. It truly doesn’t matter WHAT you decide as long as you make the decision, communicate it clearly to your students, and reinforce it.
*Note: For all of these, I will share my personal procedure (when I’ve been in a school that has allowed me to make my own). I am ONLY sharing this as a reference point for you. If you read these examples and #1 and #2 above do NOT apply for you, DO NOT ADOPT THESE AS YOUR OWN! Find something that works for you!!
My personal procedure for late work: If I grade something for completion, I don’t accept it late, as we immediately go over it in class afterward. I haven’t had a big issue with this though because I don’t assign homework, so they get class time to do their work. If I collect and grade something for accuracy (this is rare, but I will do it for labs and projects), I will accept it late up until the day of the test.
I take off 10% every day late, but never more than 50%. I accept late work up until the final summative assessment at the end of the unit because I want them to do the work I assign to learn the material. I do not accept afterward because (1) I find it makes it MUCH harder for me to be consistent and fair with grading if I am doing it 2 months after I graded everyone else’s, and (2) I want them to focus on their current work and not what they have missed.
Procedures to Teach: Missed Labs and Tests
Inevitably, you will always have students that miss a lab or a test. How will you handle them making it up? Setting a procedure for this from day 1 will help decrease a lot of frustration come test day when you have 7 students on the football team out for an away game and you don’t know how to get them to all make it up.
Again, it doesn’t matter WHAT you decide to do, just make sure you actually DECIDE and then teach it clearly to your students.
My personal procedure for missed labs/tests: Nearly every lab I do stretches over two class periods – one day for design and data collection, and one day for analysis and application. If students miss day 1 but are back for day 2, I catch them up in a few minutes and then place them in a group to get data from and work with. If students miss day 2 but were there for day 1, I give them a week to finish the analysis and application on their own. If students miss both days, I do not make them make up the lab.
Now, I know this can be an unpopular opinion, but here is my reasoning. I was managing 5 different preps in a non-lab space. I simply did NOT have space or the resources to keep labs set up for multiple days. And I didn’t have time to re-set them up a week later when a student could finally come in. Additionally, when I do a lab, we are talking about it for DAYS afterward, so students will get the gist even if they missed actually doing it. Finally, I do so many hands-on labs that students will get the skills they missed from another instructional activity.
For tests, I tell students they need to be prepared to make it up within 48 hours of their return. I will let them do half at lunch over two days if they can’t come before or after school. This is because I don’t want them getting too far into new material before they’ve done the old material. It has worked really well for me and for my students, and since I teach this procedure EARLY, students know the expectation and don’t get frustrated when they return to class and I immediately ask them when they are coming in in the next 48 hours to take the test.
Procedures to Teach: First 5 Minutes of Class
I believe this is by far one of THE most important procedures to teach. I consider the first five minutes of class “Prime Time” because I believe it sets the tone for how the rest of the class will go. I don’t want my students sitting on their desks looking at photos of potential prom dresses when the bell rings. I want them in their seats and learning RIGHT AWAY.
I also know that I need time to take attendance and switch things over for the new class. This is why I train my students to do Prime Times®️, my fun name for bell ringers.
My personal procedure for the first five minutes of class: When the bell rings as one class leaves I pull up the next class’s Prime Time bell ringers. I then go to greet students at the door. As my students come in, I train them to turn in assignments that are due into the turn In bin on my wall. I usually have a reminder on the whiteboard if something is due. They start working immediately on their Prime Time. When the bell rings to start class, I go take attendance and get things ready for the next class period. After 5 minutes, I collect the Prime Time, we go over it, and we start learning right away.
You can read more about how we spend the first five minutes of class here. If you HATE bell ringers, check out this post where I address 5 common complaints with bell ringers and my solutions for those issues.
Procedures to Teach: Phones
I would make sure DAY ONE to explain your phone policy. Again, IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT IT IS!!! All that matters is that YOU feel good about it – enough so that you will continually reinforce it. Because here is the deal:
A procedure is only as effective as it is clearly communicated and continually reinforced.
My personal procedure for phones: I’ve been in a school that allowed them in the hallways, but then require you to collect them at the start of class. In that school, I had a caddy on my door like this. In another school that allowed teachers to make their own policy, I had lights like these on my whiteboard and I trained my students in each color. Red = Absolutely no phones and if seen, it is being taken until the end of the day. Green = Feel free to have it out and use it for educational purposes.
Procedures to Teach: Lab Days
Last but not least, it is SO IMPORTANT that you establish procedures for lab days specifically. Especially if you have limited space, time, and resources, you want to be sure you are stewarding what you have as efficiently and effectively as possible. Consider every aspect of lab day and how you could systematize it into a set procedure that benefits both you and your students so that you can both enjoy lab days.
My personal procedure for lab days: I actually have a LOT – and a lot of thoughts about making lab days as stress-free and smooth as possible. Because of this, I actually have a free live workshop I teach a few times of year called, “3 Secrets to Stress-Free Lab Days“. If interested, you can check it out here. Note: If it is a time of year that I am not currently teaching it, this link will automatically direct you to join a waitlist where I will notify you as soon as I am offering free sessions again!
Now, do I have more procedures to teach than these 5? YES. Because I NEED more. You may be chill enough to be just fine with these 5. And that’s great! I really believe these are the 5 most essential procedures to teach at the beginning of the year. But if you need more, GO FOR IT. Do what fits your personality best. I have a lot because I am Type-A. I need the structure. You may need less.
Also, you know your students and their needs. The rowdier your crew, the more procedures I recommend. But again, ONLY if you are willing to take the time to teach them and consistently reinforce them because a procedure is only as effective as it is clearly communicated and continually reinforced. Other procedures I love to teach: turning in work, sharpening pencils, bathroom policy, pre-planned absences, and handling requests for extra credit.
But, Rebecca, what if it is TOO LATE???
Now you may be reading all of this and thinking – Rebecca, this would have been really nice if I had found and read this blog post over the summer, but now we are too deep into the school year and I am afraid it is just too late.
Let me tell you something that I wish someone had told me early on:
NO class is ever too far gone!!
Is it much harder to teach new procedures midyear after you’ve already allowed some bad habits to be established? Yes. I won’t lie to you. It WILL be more challenging.
But is it possible? YES!!! You just need to be committed to taking the time to teach and reinforce over, and over, and over again until the new procedures you are establishing are ingrained and override the old rhythms students have learned.
I’d love to hear some procedures you’ve established that have been really effective for you and your students! You can reach out to me and share here.