Why You Should Let Poorly Followed Routines Play Out

by Michael Linsin on July 19, 2014

Why You Should Let Poorly Followed Routines Play OutIt’s an all too common compulsion among teachers.

Upon noticing a class routine going off the rails, they immediately jump in to try and correct it.

They remind. They warn. They attempt to squelch the problem before it gets out of hand.

It makes sense. It seems like the right thing to do.

But it’s a mistake.

It’s far better to take a step back and let the routine play out. It’s better to remain calm, observe from a distance, and allow your students to go down in flames.

Here’s why:

It enables you to assess the problem.

The only way to fix a sloppy routine so that it doesn’t happen again is to know precisely what went wrong. It’s important to ascertain whether the problem is behavior-based or due to a misunderstanding of your expectations.

Therefore, when you first become aware a routine isn’t being performed as taught, your observational powers should kick into high gear, recording every misstep down to the smallest detail.

In this way, you have the information you need to hold your class accountable or reteach the routine.

It gives your students a chance to self-evaluate.

When students know they’re being watched intently, especially by a teacher who faithfully holds them accountable for previously learned expectations, they develop the ability to recognize and correct their own mistakes.

This is a powerful lesson that rarely requires you to do much of anything other than asking them to redo the routine. When they catch it themselves, you see, it deepens understanding and they’ll rarely make the same mistake again.

It causes your students to take responsibility.

When your students know you have them dead to rights, when they realize of their own accord that they performed the routine poorly—and they will if you let it play out under your observing eye—they’ll readily take responsibility for it.

They’ll be open and agreeable to what you have to say. When you jump in right away, on the other hand, they’re likely to become defensive, argumentative, and annoyed by your interruption.

It calms the excitability waters.

Any amount of stress you bring to your classroom will result in poorer behavior among your students. When you rush in to correct a shoddy routine, you add intensity and risk putting fuel to the fire.

Even if you do manage to get your class back on track, you’ve now ramped up the excitability quotient. You’ve created agitation, friction, and a you-against-them vibe that can quickly spiral into a bad day.

Handling misbehavior with patience and composure, on the other hand, will calm and settle your students and refocus them on the task at hand.

The Art of Doing Nothing

Letting a poor routine play out doesn’t mean you’re going to allow your students to walk all the way to the lunchroom, for example, in a state of chaos.

It means that you’re going to give yourself time to observe and your students time to realize the error of their ways.

Only then will you stop them by way of asking for their attention. Here again, though, you’ll take your time with a lengthy pause before saying a word.

You want the reality of their mistake to sink in. You want them to know before you open your mouth where they went wrong and what they need to do to fix it. In this way, the only reteaching you’ll do is sending them back to do the routine again.

If, however, you notice from your observation that they’re unsure of your expectations, then it pays to reteach the routine in full.

When routines go wrong, when it appears your students have forgotten everything you’ve taught them about entering the classroom or putting away materials or circling into small groups, it’s best to take a step back.

And do . . . nothing.

Just observe.

Then, and only then, will your students begin looking inward at themselves and their responsibilities. Only then will control shift to you. Only then will the words you use have meaning and impact.

Only then will routines become routine.

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