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‘A great lesson starts at the door’

Week 2 of ‘Managing Behaviour for Learning‘ from Future Learn is focused on the importance of routines, boundaries and expectations. All teachers have them but do not always communicate them effectively to students (read about week 1 of my learning here).

The first few minutes of a lesson are crucial.


A great lesson starts at the door. With a good start to the lesson, you have every chance of having a good lesson. Intervene before they enter the classroom. Make learners feel important, valued and appreciated at the door. This needs to happen for every learner, even the ones who you wished had stayed at home today- it’s those students who probably need that welcome more in any case.

Shake the hand of every student who walks in. Smile at them. Be pleased to see them. Ask about their day/their weekend. This short burst of energy injects enthusiasm and eagerness into every student who walks in. It’s not just a nice idea to conduct a meet and greet but it has a real impact on learners’ approach to the lesson.

We recently incorporated this at The Sheffield College and I can testify to its success; students already reporting that it makes them feel welcomed, valued and comfortable.

Even when we don’t feel as though we have the energy, the meet and greet is worth summoning every bit of energy we have for: respect breeds respect.

Class Routines

Have you defined the routines you’ll expect from students and what these will look like?

I’ve certainly been working on the start and end of lessons and will generate a more acute focus on other routines over this term that will help to create a calm environment conducive to learning:

Start of lesson

  • Meet and greet welcome
  • Look for your name (lego man) before sitting down. This will be in a different place each depending on the learning taking place- different partners/groups/positions in the room.
  • Pen and paper out ready for learning upon sitting down
  • Engage in starter activity

End of lesson

  • Complete the online lesson review form
  • Reflect on targets and progress
  • Help to tidy the room and resources- delegated tasks

The MOOC suggests using icons for each stage of a routine and positive language throughout; leaving no room for negativity or misinterpretation.

Use routines tirelessly and introduce new ones gradually; not all at once. Once I’ve got start and end right (over the next couple of weeks) I’m going to begin introducing group work routines, interacting with and providing feedback routines, as well as planning writing and approaching reading tasks routines.

Some example routines given:

Routine for small group discussion

  1. Allocate roles to each person in the group – chair, timekeeper, note-taker etc.
  2. Everyone has one minute to speak in turn – they put their own ideas, points of view, questions to the group.
  3. As a group agree on three ideas, three arguments or issues and three questions you want to ask.

Routine for leaving the laboratory

  1. Stay on task until the verbal cue from the teacher (even if the bell rings).
  2. Clear your bench thoroughly.
  3. Check the board for homework.
  4. Sit down to show you are ready to leave.
  5. Calmly leave the room when asked to by the teacher.

A simple routine for group work

  1. One voice at a time.
  2. Take notes.
  3. Be kind.

Never assume that students know the rules and how to behave in your classroom. It’s not automatic. Each teacher has a set of precise rules and expectations about activities and routines in their classroom. They’re not the same as what every other teacher expects and therefore it’s important to establish these very clearly with students.

Rules and routines should be on display and referenced throughout the lesson constantly. Therefore, when they behave inappropriately we can assume they’ve done so intentionally and deserve a sanction. Equally, when they behave appropriately, we can assume they’ve done so because they’re following the rules and deserve praise accordingly.

It’s important that the teacher sets the rules rather than defining them in collaboration with students). We’re the people who decide what kinds of behaviour are conducive to learning in our setting and we are the ones who will need to model the expectations we have of learners (rather than them dictating what good behaviour looks like).

Phrasing rules in a positive way is essential- using ‘no‘, ‘no‘, ‘no‘, will elicit a negative response in turn. State the precise behaviours we want to see instead.

Classroom organisation and informal activities to think about:

  • How do they come into the classroom?
  • How do they tidy up?
  • How do they organise themselves for learning?
  • How do they respond to a question?
  • How do they get ready for break?

Displaying any ritual until students have learned it can be helpful- the behaviours won’t get established just from the display: as you establish it, you need to use positive reinforcement with those who are following the routine successfully. Once they begin to understand one routine then a couple of new ones can be added in.

In getting the students’ attention, use a countdown so that you’re in control of the students paying attention. Intersperse each number with some commentary- what students are doing well, what students will need to do before they’re ready so that by the time 0 is reached, everyone is ready to learn.

Remaining as consistent as possible, even when you want to throw your hands up in the air, is essential and having clear routines to refer the students back to is helpful. We generate responsibility this way: students feel responsible for their own and their peers’ behaviour because the expectations are explicit and overt.

Three rules are better than thirty.

Simplicity is key to rules. If we want students to remember and follow a number of rules then less is more! If you could pick 3 rules for your classroom, what would they be? The recommendation is that, if focusing on older students, focus on the learning attitudes we’d like to see. Avoid ‘don’t‘ or ‘no‘ as their impact on student behaviour is to incite negativity. Display them clearly on three walls in your teaching space.

We currently have ‘be ready, be respectful and be safe‘. In addition to these, for my particular context and environment, I think I would select (although it may need some more reflection):

  1. Focused on learning
  2. Shares thoughts and ideas (allowing others to respond too)
  3. Gives and receives constructive feedback


Seven tips

  1. Meet and greet at the door – the best early intervention in behaviour management is at the door.
  2. Catch students doing the right thing – nobody wants insincere praise and it can be easy to catch children doing the wrong thing so develop the ability to catch those more challenging students doing the right thing.
  3. Deal with poor behaviour privately and calmly – avoid as much as possible the public humiliation or public sanctioning of students
  4. Relentlessly build mutual trust – the relationship you have with students sustains you and carries on into the future.
  5. Directly teach the behaviours and learning attitudes you want to see – have a plan so that you know the behaviours you are trying to teach and the students know what behaviours they are trying to learn.
  6. Talk about values – never talk about behaviours in isolation – always relate them back to the culture you are trying to build and the values and truths you have as a class and as a teacher.
  7. Follow up follow up follow up – teachers who follow up are the ones the children decide to behave differently for. Write it down if you have a difficult incident with a student, then you have the control back – you can decide when and how to follow up.


Reading about Routines

Establishing Classroom Routines

How to change a habit flowchart (click here to view site):


My writing commitment: I’m learning to honour my thoughts. I’m learning that my words can be shared before I’ve connected all the dots or learned everything there is to know. My writing can be a snapshot of a single moment in continually-evolving time.

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