In teacher education, we often stress to beginning teachers how important it is to set up and practice solid classroom routines and procedures at the start of the school year. In fact, teachers are frequently told not to introduce any academic content for the first two weeks of the year, instead dedicating that entire time to setting up classroom norms and practicing procedures until they become habits. I believe this is good advice. Strong classroom management and organization is essential for teachers to be able to facilitate student learning, and students benefit from a structured classroom in which they know what to expect and how they are expected to behave.
I also believe, however, that the beginning of the year is not the only time that this structure can or should be established. Sometimes it is necessary for teachers to hit the reset button in their classrooms. Perhaps a few months have gone by and procedures that were firmly in place at the start of the year have started to slip. Maybe students and teachers have grown bored with routines, or perhaps the norms and procedures implemented at the beginning of the year were never actually very effective for that particular group of students. In any case, teachers need not feel trapped by what was established at the start of the year.
In my first year of teaching, I listened to the advice of those who told me to be firm and consistent and set up a strong discipline system at the beginning of the year. It was effective and I had few classroom management issues. However, I was concerned that I did not have a way to recognize and reward positive behavior in my students and I was eager to infuse more joy into my classroom. I recall telling a colleague that the following year, I would be sure to include a positive behavior system as well. “Why wait until next year?” she said, “Your students would love this now!” And she was right. That weekend, I developed what I called “Miles of Smiles.” I taped a strip of posterboard to each student’s desk and bought a roll of smiley face stickers. From then on, anytime I caught a student making a good choice, they would get a sticker on their strip and once it was full, they could wear it around their head like a crown for the day before adding it to a chain we would display in the classroom. This became one of my favorite elements of our classroom, and I am so glad I did not wait until the beginning of the next school year to try it out.
If you are feeling like a change is needed in your teaching, whether it is a specific procedure that needs to be reconsidered, an additional element of your management plan that needs to be added, or even a change in your approach to an individual student’s learning or behavior, do not hesitate to make that change. You can make a change tomorrow, or you can wait until after the Christmas break when it may feel like a natural time to introduce a new process, since routines and procedures should be refreshed after a long break anyway. Simply explain that something was not working the way you wanted it to, or that you noticed an issue with whatever it is you are changing. Explain and teach the new procedure or element the same way you would at the beginning of the year, provide a rationale for why you are asking them to do things that way, and practice as necessary. Most students will appreciate that you are willing to reflect on your teaching and make adjustments to improve the classroom environment for everyone.
What mid-year changes have you made? How have they been received by your students? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments.
(If you look closely, you can see the chain of smiley “crowns” hanging across the board in my old classroom!)