September rushes in with a breathe of excitement and new beginnings. We buy beautiful new back to school organizers and calendars promising ourselves this will be the year we maintain that high level of organized perfection we always strive for. We buy new bins, color coded everything, and take pride in setup of our classroom. The small patterned buckets of freshly sharpened pencils look straight from a stock photo and we feel ready to take on the new year. Amongst the many aesthetic changes in our lives, we maybe have new students, new classrooms, and new grades to wrap our heads around. It’s easy to get caught up in lesson plans, data sheets, curriculum maps, assessments, and more. But guess what? We’ve got plenty of time for that later in the year. You aren’t ready for it and neither are your students. Right now your only goal is teach routines and become a reinforcer. That’s it. If you accomplish this seemingly small but immensely important task this month – your school year is going to rock. You will be able to tackle those assessments, handle taking data, and all that other great curriculum stuff with gusto later and it will go well. However if you jump the gun try to squeeze these in too early before you’ve dealt with routines and reinforcers you are going to have a long and rocky road ahead.

It's All About the Routines

Every morning when you wake up, your mantra is routines, routines, routines, routines. The goal right now is teaching your students how to follow their daily schedules, complete independent work, follow embedded schedules, and become independent in their day. This takes time. This takes practice, repetition, and lots of exposure. You need to provide error correction when a student completes a transition incorrectly. Use errorless learning to show your students the correct way to transition and then slowly fade those prompts. Provide lots of praise when students are independent. If you spend the time to teach this now, you will have the amazing luxury of focusing on your small group instruction more completely throughout the year because your students are independent at transitions.

How do I find the time to teach these routines?

That is the first question that pops into everyone’s head. We spent all of this time making these amazing schedules and you (the teacher) are scheduled to be doing a whole heck of a lot of teaching throughout the day so how are you going to be in two places at once? How can you run your scheduled small groups and also be teaching all of these routines? Well since that whole cloning thing isn’t an option – the answer is busy work. And I don’t mean busy work in the “pointless extra work that has no purpose except designed to get students out of our hair way” I mean purposeful busy work. I mean previously mastered tasks that will keep students busy. Independent work is the most essential life skill you can teach your students. The ability to be on their own working or engaging in a leisure task without an adult is critical. You and mom aren’t following Johnny around forever so he’s gotta learn to be alone. So at the station you were scheduled to run – plop down file folders, sensory bins, bingo games, puzzles, even iPads and don’t have one minute of guilt about it. It is better to pull yourself away completely for a few days or weeks than be halfway pulled away all year. If you don’t solidify routines now you will never be able to give your small groups the quality instruction they deserved because you will be constantly pulled away to help in other areas of the room.

What’s most important to teach?

Teach your students how to follow their daily schedule. Not just getting from point A to point B, but what does that look like? Can you talk while transitioning? What do you do when you get to a station? Teach your paraprofessionals how to run their stations. Model the correct procedures. Observe them. Teach your students how to engage in appropriate prosocial behaviors. Teach replacement behaviors for inappropriate responses. Those are all part of the classroom routine as well. You will never be done teaching these things. It’s not like you will spend a ton of energy on this in September and then wipe your hands clean. But spend additional time on this in the start of the year will lessen the time you spend on teaching this later, increase your students’ overall level of independence, and put your year in the right direction!

Routines is only half of equation for start of the year success. Tomorrow let’s chat about establishing yourself and your classroom as a reinforcer. Make your classroom a place your students WANT to be and you a person your students WANT to be around! 🙂

Sasha Long
Sasha Long

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