7 Essential Procedures to Teach the First Week of School

I cannot believe I am already saying this, but it's time to start planning for a new school year, teachers! There is so much that needs to be done, and so much we want to accomplish that it can be overwhelming, right? But it doesn't have to be! I have a series of posts to help both new and veteran teachers get prepped for another year of learning. 

In "5 Things I Won't Be Doing on the First Day of School", I suggest not using the first day (or days) to rattle off your syllabus and review all the classroom rules. It's a sure-fire way to lose your students. Instead, focus on a handful of essential procedures to teach to start the school year off right and organized without boring them to tears. 

Here are seven essential procedures to teach during the first week of school. You can save the rest for the following weeks as you and your students get more comfortable. 

Rather than reading these from a list, try to make your information more interactive and dynamic by modeling the desired behaviors and asking students to participate and demonstrate them. 

How to enter the classroom. Think about how long it takes you to get your class settled and finally ready to jump into work. 3 minutes? 5 minutes? 10 minutes? Add that time up, and you lose hours and hours of instructional time. With a limited amount of time to teach and a seemingly endless amount of content to cover, getting things moving as quickly as possible is essential. When the bell rang, I always expected my students to be seated and ready to work. It may be harsh, but if students were up out of their seats (even if they were in the room), I considered that a tardy. Be sure to let your students know what you consider tardy and how they should enter your classroom. My students were held to a higher discipline in my classroom and knew what to expect. Because of that, once the bell rang, students were already sitting, working on their bellringer activity while I took attendance.

Have a "bellringer" activity. Help students get focused fast. Be sure to show them that this activity is expected to occur immediately after the bell rings. Since you have reinforced that they need to be in their seat when the bell rings, they can start this work right away. For example, give them a writing prompt, a Word of the Day, a brain teaser, a one or two-question quiz, or start a podcast to listen to –anything to get them working and focused. At the same time, you take roll and take care of the minor housekeeping you need to do.  

This shouldn't take more than 3-4 minutes to complete. Students can either keep a notebook that you randomly monitor, or they can turn this work in daily, or you can make it so that this is not an assessed activity. For example, I had students work in a journal that they kept and randomly collected, skim them for completion (don't spend a lot of your time with this), and kept track of how well they worked during this time and whether or not they were doing the work. So I based part of their participation points on this work. For some ideas, visit my post on 25 ELA Bellringer, Do No, or Early Finisher Ideas.

When to use the restroom. Students will ask you (and some of them often enough) to use the restroom. Not all of these requests are genuine, however. Sometimes students just need a mental break, or they don't want to do the task at hand, which is pretty standard. However, we also need to let students use the restroom if they ask. As a general rule, I try to tell my students to limit their bathroom breaks to when they absolutely have to go. In addition, I do let them know that there may be times, especially during a short video or direct instruction, that I will ask them to wait because they will miss necessary instruction. My rule of thumb for restroom breaks is to set the boundary of students who can use the restroom during the first five minutes of class or the last five minutes. 

If I have a student who struggles with staying on task and paying attention, I will let them use the restroom a little more often to keep them engaged, as long as it does not become a more significant distraction. Taking mental breaks can be really helpful for students who need them to make it through the entire class period. 

Use of electronic devices/cell phones. Electronic devices and cell phone policies may vary by district, school, or teacher. Many districts and schools have decided to leave it up to the teacher to determine their policies, which can be frustrating because all teachers have a different opinion on this usage in the classroom. My best advice would be to rally the teachers (and maybe the admin) and reach a consensus on the policy. That way, students get the same message from different teachers.

If you get the choice, think about what you can reasonably and easily enforce. Be prepared to remind students of the policy several times at the beginning of the term and even at the end, as students tend to check out mentally. I like to use a cell phone organizer and hang it in my room. Each student is assigned a number, and upon entry, they put their phones in the slot for the whole class. Sometimes, during down times, or if they need their phones to do something for class, I'll allow them to have them. Whatever you choose, be transparent about your policy and why you have it, and be consistent with it.   

Turning in work/retrieving graded work. Be sure to have a place set aside for students to turn in their work. I used to have drawers like these, with two drawers set aside for each class. I would add labels like "Period One – IN" on the left and "Period One – OUT" on the right, and they would turn in and collect work there. Be sure to explain when they must turn in their homework. I required students to turn in their homework immediately upon entering the classroom and collected them from the box while students started on the bellringer. Be sure to collect before the bellringer so you don't have students attempting to use this time to rush through and try to complete their homework so that they don't get a zero.

If your school utilizes Google Classroom, be sure to have the due dates and times set. This way, the students will be notified when something is missing, and you will be notified when something is turned in late. 

Turning in late work. Do you accept late work? Be sure to address whether or not you accept late work, how many points you will dock the grade, and just how late you will take the assignment. Think about whether you will accept late work for big projects but not for homework, classwork, or visa-versa. Can they turn in the work 5 minutes late? Can they turn in the work the next day for partial credit? Can they turn in work by the end of the semester? (I don't recommend this, by the way. Giving students until the end of the semester will make your life miserable just before grading.) Be sure that parents are also aware of your policies on Back to School night. 

Like the cell phone policy, students are much more successful when there are consistent expectations from all teachers. Adults using universal language and rules allow the students to reach more success who rules and expectations. 

Class rules and participation. Do you have class rules? How to treat each other, work in groups, get up out of your seat, talk out of turn, etc. I found a simple set that was pretty clear: 1) Treat everyone with respect, 2) Be responsible. Pretty self-explanatory, we always talked about what each rule entailed, including respecting yourself and others and bringing necessary materials to class each day (responsible). Students must know that they are expected to participate in class from the get-go. It is also essential to let them know whether you require them to raise their hands to speak or whether they can respectfully interrupt.

On the first day of school, it's important to address a handful of procedures for students to follow. This will help them understand them, remember them, and actually follow them. This then allows you time to jump into some dynamic and engaging learning! 

Do you have any other essential classroom procedures? What do you recommend? Please share!

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