Rules are to be broken. Procedures are to be practiced.

One thing that sets my classroom apart is my emphasis on teaching a practicing procedures.  I learned this the hard way.  My first year of teaching was a mess!! I entered teaching through an Alternative Licensure Program, so it was my first experience in the classroom.  I learned quickly that without good classroom management, there can be no teaching and no learning.  Unfortunately, I never learned classroom management that year.  I just muddled through and tried hard not to quit my job.  During that summer I took three courses to earn my license.  And in one of those classes I received this golden nugget of wisdom, “Rules are to be broken. Procedures are to be practiced.”  Bingo!!

Adolescents are all about rebelling against the rules.  So I don’t make any rules (other than the school policies which I always enforce).  But I have at least 20 procedures that I teach.  Here are a few:

  • Coming into the classroom
  • Correcting exploration assignments
  • Correcting practice assignments
  • Turning in assignments
  • Turning in late/absent assignments
  • What to do when you’re finished
  • Test/quiz taking
  • Group work expectations
  • Independent work expectations
  • Pencil sharpening
  • Hall pass procedures
  • Responding to teacher signal for attention
  • Whiteboards
  • Partner work
  • Dealing with students who are bothering you
  • Group presentations
  • Informing vs tattling
  • Individual student response vs whole class response

That’s just a few.  I teach and reteach these all year long.  Probably every day I teach a procedure.  What’s the consequence for not following the procedure? We practice it again.  Sometimes that means that my students practice coming into the classroom, one row at a time, while the rest of the class quietly waits.  Sometimes they practice sitting silently for 15-30 seconds after I call for their attention.  They practice putting calculators away.  They practice handing in assignments.  It makes me feel good, because I’m not punishing them.  I’m teaching them, by giving them more opportunities to practice.  Of course, they don’t see it this way, often.  But it helps me maintain a positive attitude when I realize that I don’t have to get angry at them.  I just have to find a way for them to practice the procedure that they are struggling with.  And, actually, most of the time they don’t need to practice the procedure.  They just need to be reminded.  But practice is good for those moments when I can feel my classroom is teetering on the verge of chaos.

I also have signs in posted all over my room that teach some of the more important procedures.

IMG_0383 IMG_0384 IMG_0385 IMG_0386

(The informing vs tattling poster I got here:  Very helpful, since my I find that even 8th graders get the tattling bug at times.)

My coworkers joke with me that I have procedures for teaching my students to breathe. While I’m sure I would never take it this far, a small part of me can hear myself saying, “Inhale, class.  Now, exhale.  Very good.  If you find that your breath smells a little strongly, a soothing Altoid would not be amiss.  But don’t forget the proper Altoid-retreival procedure.  Be sure to take one from the top, and take the first one that you touch.”  Hmm, Ms Moore thinks to herself, perhaps I could give them a small formative assessment on appropriately selecting an Altoid from the tin. A picture of an open Altoid tin with the directions, “Circle the Altoid that you should take.”  Then I would know if this procedure needs to be retaught and practiced some more.  

6 thoughts on “Rules are to be broken. Procedures are to be practiced.

  1. kalawrence9

    I like the difference that you lay out between rules and procedures. I think too many teachers try to make up a list of rules that encompass everything, which can’t be done! That is why students test us, to see where the holes in the rules are. I had only one rule: “Respect”, because everything falls under that. But having procedures and expectations for things that can be a distraction in class are important and should be explicitly stated in the classroom. I like your signs!

    1. msmooremath Post author

      I totally agree with you about students ‘testing the rules’. I discovered that if I place less of an emphasis on ‘rules’, students don’t try to test them. And I only teach procedures as they become necessary, which helps.

  2. Brian Fedderman

    What a great reminder of how many ways their are to teach! I do not establish set procedures nearly as often or explicitly as you do (and I am sure that I have more headaches because of it). This makes me think about how “one size fits all” is such the wrong way to go with teachers or students. Administrators (evaluators) need to keep this thought front and center. There is no “one right way” to do anything in the classroom. You have me thinking about all the problems I could eliminate in my practice if I gave some fresh thoughts to procedures! Thank you!

    1. msmooremath Post author

      Haha. You’re right. One size definitely doesn’t fit all. My classroom could not look and feel more different from the math class across the hall. But my coworker across the hall does an excellent job and his students learn well. We just have different styles. I think it’s most important to be authentic. Students can smell a fake a mile away. So you have to find a teaching philosophy and classroom management style that fits you.

  3. Nora

    Oh my goodness, you are too funny. I wonder if I would pick the ‘right’ Altoid. This post couldn’t have come at a better time. I have a very difficult class this year that just doesn’t seem to understand how to behave or act in a classroom, perhaps we should practice these procedures. Do your students every feel like you are treating them like babies? I could see some of my students rolling their eyes if I made them practice getting a calculator or something like that. Maybe that isn’t a bad thing though. Thanks for sharing!!!

    1. msmooremath Post author

      Perhaps they do think I treat them like babies. But I actually don’t make them practice the procedures all that often. I teach and re-teach them all the time, but they rarely need to practice things like ‘coming into the classroom’ or ‘putting away calculators’. When they do have to practice them, they recognize that it’s because they haven’t been doing it well. I think that students appreciate order and they want to be in well-managed classes. So in the long run, they don’t mind. And they do appreciate that I don’t ever yell at them, which is quite a stark contrast between my classroom and other teacher’s classrooms in our school.


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