Why You Should Let Poorly Followed Routines Play Out

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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14 Responses to Why You Should Let Poorly Followed Routines Play Out

  1. Lana July 19, 2014 at 11:10 am #

    I honestly agree that this is the best approach, but I can just see an administrator or another teacher rushing in to yell at my students. I’ve seen it happen to other teachers before. 🙁

  2. Emily Morris July 19, 2014 at 6:26 pm #

    My reaction to this was to simply not carry on to the next routine. Would that be enough to deter a teacher or administrator?

  3. Lana July 20, 2014 at 7:42 am #

    When I wrote that I was thinking of students walking down the hallway. A teacher mentioned recently that they will address another class because sometimes students hear better from someone else. I disagree with that argument. My students should listen to me. I’d prefer no on addressed my students’ behavior, but I could live with it if they didn’t yell.

    • Michael Linsin July 20, 2014 at 9:57 am #

      Hi Lana,

      Indeed, a teacher who steps in to correct another teacher’s class interferes with the process above and will most definitely make things worse—for many reasons. It’s an unwritten no-no among teachers that unfortunately not everyone honors.


  4. Backroads July 21, 2014 at 11:30 am #

    I was at a school once that championed a team approach to the students where teachers often would step in for one another. If it’s handled correctly, it’s a great system. I’d suggest to Lana that if you’re having that problem, just let the rest of the faculty know your philosophy and that you need them to step back at such times.

  5. mary August 4, 2014 at 6:28 am #

    I appreciate when other teachers correct or compliment my class and wish more would jump in. I use it to model for my students the opportunity to thank someone who helps us to make the school a better place. “School” is a society and in the real world we are accountable to everyone to follow rules.

  6. James August 18, 2014 at 1:06 pm #

    With a class of 25, fifth grade, I had good control of the class. I was placed in a third grade class by myself with a class of 32 students. There was no help and I was not given a student teacher. How about more articles on large class sizes?

  7. Bryan December 10, 2014 at 10:13 am #

    What if it’s just one or two students that aren’t following the procedure/routine correctly?

    • Michael Linsin December 10, 2014 at 5:11 pm #

      Hi Bryan,

      You enforce a consequence.


  8. Heidi September 13, 2015 at 3:16 am #

    Hi Michael,

    I’ve just finished my training and have started the year with my first ever class! Your books and articles have made such a difference to my confidence and just knowing what to do in terms of classroom management-thank you! I’ve spent this week focusing a lot on teaching and practising routines. When the class has done a routine perfectly I then expect them to do it so every time. However, I’ve found that the next day they do it in quite a sloppy way. When I tell them to redo it, the sloppiness is still there. I then re teach the routine, though I know they know it and I’ve done that a few times. It seems to be less about not knowing what to do and more about not seeing the importance of it and perhaps I’m not so good at motivating though I’ve been trying to inspire about excellence! Is there any advice you could give me so I’m not repeating routines every day? Or is this normal at the start if a new year? Thanks again v much.

    • Michael Linsin September 13, 2015 at 8:15 am #

      Hi Heidi,

      This happens when they don’t believe you really mean it. This could be because you’re new or because they’ve never been asked to do routines the way you’re asking them. Whatever the case, just stick to your guns and they’ll get it.


  9. Heidi Thomas September 13, 2015 at 1:48 pm #

    Thanks for replying so promptly Michael, I ll stick to my guns! Heidi