It’s perhaps surprising how a lesson’s success greatly depends on the moments that precede the actual lesson: The etiquette in the hallways, the way students line up at the door and enter, and the design of the task they’re meant to do when they take their seats. When I coach teachers who struggle with classroom management, I often begin by helping them get things right from the start.
Maintaining safe and pleasant hallways requires cooperation from everyone in the building. Elementary teachers should walk their students in a perfectly straight, silent line from place to place, and other adults in the hallways should praise classes for following these expectations. I advise teachers to walk at the front of the line, backwards, so that their eyes are on the students at all times, and to stop and wait at each step that a student falls out of line. The teacher receiving the students should be at their door, ready for the hand-off, and the teacher walking them should stick around for a minute or so to make sure that students enter their next learning space sensibly. Middle and high school teachers should be at their classroom doors during passing periods to greet and acknowledge the students. Here in the US, students should walk at a brisk pace on the right side of the hallway to avoid collisions. Often it is the largest, strongest students who do not follow this direction, and so the smallest children are to suffer from being slammed into lockers if the rule is not enforced. Cellphones should not be out, nor food, nor toys. The point of the hallway is to travel from place to place in a calm, efficient manner. No child should have to attend a school where being jostled, assaulted, or bullied in the hallways is the accepted norm.
Lining up and Entering
When students arrive at the door of their next class, they should line up against the wall, or put their feet on the dots/line/numbers that are on the floor. Students don’t always want to do this correctly, so you have to model the procedure, practice it, and occasionally reset the expectation when it starts to fall apart. When every single student is lined up correctly (facing forward, mouths closed, eyes on the teacher), the teacher should greet each student at the door in a manner that conveys that they’re entering a serious academic space where they’re cared for and respected. The teacher should “cheat out” by aiming 2/3 of their body towards the line in the hallway, and 1/3 towards the interior of the classroom. No more than one student at a time should be allowed in. If the students in the hallway are misbehaving while you’re greeting and admitting, the students that have already entered the classroom should be required to go back out in the hallway and everyone should try again. If you hear any off-task behavior from the students in the classroom (who are meant to be completing their Do Now), everyone must go back out into the hallway and try again. Teachers may have to use an incentive – e.g., an interclass competition (one point for every successful line up, one point for successful entry) – to get students to take this procedure seriously, but the investment is worth it. Whether a teacher secures a successful entry of the students or not has a huge impact on the rest of the lesson.
The Do Now solves several logistical and instructional problems. Many teachers need to do attendance at the beginning of the lesson, and attendance wastes academic learning time. Attendance is also boring, so students tend to misbehave during it, thereby undoing the gains that were made from a successful controlled entry. We also need a buffer activity for students as they enter one at a time from the line in the hallway, and for students who are tardy; Too often a student’s failure to learn can be attributed to having missed the explanation at the start of the lesson. Finally, students tend to be given too few opportunities during their education to review previously taught material. The solution to all of these issues is to set a Do Now – a task that students can complete independently, in silence, while waiting for their peers to enter and attendance to be completed. In my experience, the importance of the contents of the Do Now is often ignored. I can’t tell you how many Do Nows I have seen that were just a fun riddle or puzzle, or a question like, “Would you rather eat pizza for breakfast, or breakfast for dinner?” This is the definition of a waste of time. A Do Now should either contain material from past lessons that the students are on the brink of forgetting (to take advantage of spacing), a mixture of recent and older material (to take advantage of interleaving), or a review of prerequisite material for the day’s lesson (to reduce element interactivity). Another common issue I see with Do Nows is that they slowly get longer and longer in duration, until they eventually intrude on time that should be dedicated to the main lesson. Teachers should consider setting a timer for their Do Nows (5-7 minutes seems plenty), and practice quick transitions between the Do Now and the main lesson (Pencils down, eyes on me. The answers are 14, 72, and 89. Fantastic. In today’s lesson, we are learning about…).
All of these strategies; maintaining calm in the hallways, facilitating a sensible entry into the classroom, and designing a Do Now that gets the lesson started on the right foot; are easier to write about than to execute. While it is never too late to reset the classroom expectations of “From Door to Do Now”, the most successful teachers frontload the investment at the start of the year, and reestablish expectations throughout the year when they inevitably break down. Of course, it can be argued that none of these procedures are strictly needed when you work at schools with perfectly behaved kids (for more on this, see here and here), which might explain why there are forces in education that are actively trying to discourage teachers from using methods that keep students safe and learning.