Classrooms that run like clockwork.

How many procedures do you adhere to each day?

I don’t mean medical procedures but simple habits which define how your days unfolds. Like waking up, exercising, breakfast, commuting, parking, entering work, starting school days, the list goes on.

Studies by neurobiologists, cognitive psychologists, and others indicate that from 40 to 95 percent of human behaviour—how we think, what we say, and our overall actions—falls into the habit category. If we select a conservative 50 percent, we are on automatic pilot half the time.

The vast majority of school time in great schools occurs through creating habits by organising procedure which become habitual.

You may be thinking: That’s fine for routine activities, but certainly not when dealing with serious matters! When designing, drafting job applications, preparing to teach classes, and making important decisions, I am always concentrated and focused.

Research says no!

Much of what you do, including your professional work, is heavily-driven by habits.

Clearly, habits can be “good” and “bad”— both kinds sneak up and capture us.

Investigative reporter and author Charles Duhigg explains that habits are “the choices that all of us deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about but continue doing, often every day.”

In other words, when you contemplate any of your habits—good and bad—you realize you learned them, which means you can unlearn them or, better yet, replace them.

It also means that in school we can teach the habits you want them to learn if you are mindful and proactive enough.


What you see here is a script.

It is part of a second year out teacher’s first day at school routine that produces what he calls “miracles”.

The miracle he is referring to is the amazing thing that happens when a class of kids actually complies with what you ask them to do.

Students comply with clear and sensible routines. Procedures are totally essential in a classroom and even more so throughout a school. I know of no tertiary institutions that teach classroom procedures to beginning teachers.

If you move from classroom to classroom, like I have over the last fortnight while I have been delivering teaching demonstration lessons with over 30 different classrooms from kindy to year ten, one of the amazing things that you notice is that virtually every teacher has a different way to have students enter the room, a different set of rules, a different way of gaining classroom attention, a different room arrangement, a different way of collecting papers…. And so the list goes on.

Every class is different and every teacher and every school is different so it is not surprising that routines vary but in the classes I worked with the amount of time it took from when I entered the room to when I was introduced to present to the class varied from a military two minutes to nearly ten minutes. Strangely enough the teachers that did the most yelling were over represented in the slowest to start classes.

These statements sound a little bit like a big brotherism but they are essential for the continued sensible running of classroom and they really do make behaviour management work.

Everything ever organised in the human world has a procedure, be it taking your money out of your bank, driving down a road or making that road is governed.

So should be student entry into a classroom.

This particular teacher gives each student a slip of paper as they stand in the hallway which details their assignment for that period. This means that the student can start immediately and that they have a sense of direction and purpose.

Students without a sense of purpose cause trouble.

Funnily enough whenever I do a demonstration lesson, no matter what I am teaching, I demonstrate a basic first day classroom plan.

All of this I write on a whiteboard so that students can see the lesson unfold.

I always start with my five rules

· Mutual Respect

· No Put Downs

· Be Your Best Self

· Active Listening

· Getting Help

I explain each one of these explicitly and make the students can recall them using actions, call and response practice, attention getters and getting the students to share the rules.

Then I record the content on the whiteboard I want the students to know as it arises and finally I list the teaching strategies I am using so students can see how the learning is created.

Each one of these strategies is a new little procedure that I can use again and again as I need them. This is a one period plan that has worked for me about 95% of the time.

The five percent of the time I struggle it is when I am in a class where their non-productive habits are too well established and they will need more practice to adapt and adopt a new habit.

Or the teacher is unable to adapt to a new set of procedures.

This is always difficult because I am not against different procedures, I am flexible win everything except my body (and I plan to do something about that).

It is just that some students have a preternatural ability to notice a tension in the room and have the habit of misbehaving, often daring each teacher to take control. There procedure is “power struggle” and usually takes more than on lesson to improve.

The most comprehensive set of action based procedures I can find for a classroom are outlined by Ron Clark, author of The Essential 55: An Award-Winning Educator's Rules for Discovering the Successful Student in Every Child.

What Ron Clark has done here is to collect all levels of rules in his class and school, combine them into one list and turn them into a book. They make really interesting reading because he is a really interesting multi award winning character. As you can see from the clip…

Despite all of that jumping around and causing noise, Clark has 55 very explicit procedures that he lays out for his students, he calls them the essential 55.

Here are the first eleven.

Rule 1

When responding to any adult, you must answer by saying “Yes ma’am” or “No sir.” Just nodding your head or saying any other form of yes or no is not acceptable.

Rule 2

Make eye contact. When someone is speaking, keep your eyes on him or her at all times. If someone makes a comment, turn and face that person.

Rule 3

If someone in the class wins a game or does something well, we will congratulate that person. Claps should be at least three seconds in length with the full part of both hands meeting in a manner that will give the appropriate clap volume.

Rule 4

During discussions, respect other students’ comments, opinions, and ideas. When possible, make statements like, “I agree with John, and I also feel that…” or “I disagree with Sarah. She made a good point I feel that…” or “I think Victor made an excellent observation, and it made me realize…”

Rule 5

If you win or do well at something, do not brag. If you lose, do not show anger. Instead, say something like, “I really enjoyed the competition, and I look forward to playing you again,” or “good game,” or don’t say anything at all. To show anger or sarcasm, such as “I wasn’t playing hard anyway” or “You really aren’t that good,” shows weakness.

Rule 6

If you are asked a question in conversation, you should ask a question in return.

Me: “Did you have a nice weekend?”

You: “Yes, I had a great time. My family and I went shopping. What about you? Did you have a nice weekend?”

It is only polite to show others that you are just as interested in them as they are in you.

Rule 7

“When you cough or sneeze or burp, it is appropriate to turn your head away from others and cover your mouth with the full part of your hand. Using a fist is not acceptable.

Afterward, you should say, “Excuse me.”

Rule 8

“Do not smack your lips, tsk, roll your eyes, or show disrespect with gestures.”

Rule 9

“Always say thank you when I give you something. If you do not say it within 3 seconds after receiving the item, I will take it back. There is no excuse for not showing appreciation.”

Rule 10

“When you are given something from someone, never insult that person by making negative comments about the gift or by insinuating that it wasn’t appreciated”

Rule 11

“Surprise others by performing random acts of kindness. Go out of your way to do something surprisingly kind and generous for someone at least once a month.”

Now would you believe that these are the rules of a man whose class is full of singing and dancing, that at any time he will have students out of their desks chanting and yelling at the top of their voice? This is a man who marks his students work by standing on their desks and stepping from desktop to desktop!

I have no doubt that he would change the total nature of your school if he taught in it BUT on the other side of it is a tediously pedantic set of rules which enables him to do the crazy stuff that makes learning great.

He even has a 26 part rule (One part for each of the letters of the alphabet) which defines each of the procedures needed to eat well in his US school, which provides lunch and takes the students on travel around the world.

Once again this seems incredibly over the top until you realise that we as Australians have no set of common Australian table manners and would have students whose version of eating well in a restaurant would baffle most teachers.

Many of these procedures while tedious also have a great deal of humanity in them

Such as these two from the table manners section:

V. Always look a waiter in the eyes when you are ordering, asking a question, or saying thank you.

W. Make a point to remember the waiter’s name when they introduces them self to you. Use their name as often as possible throughout the course of the meal.

You may not need quite as many rules in your class as this but it would be truly interesting to see just how many rules you need to run your class.

None of these procedures will work by just saying them or writing them down or laminating these or putting on the wall.

If you want a procedure that works you need to create the habit. Put it this way. Your subconscious mind is illiterate, you can’t talk to it.

Neal Martin, author of the book Habit says “The habitual mind is nonverbal, so it doesn’t learn by reading or listening to an explanation. It learns unconsciously through associating an action with an outcome.” In other words, habits are learned via the tedious cue-routine-result cycle, like this:


The trouble is in school comes with the REWARD section of the loop.

For teachers the reward is a classroom that functions without dramas, for students, for students who desperately claim attention and validation the payoff has to be that this procedure leads to something worth my while.

Teachers need to make sure that whatever the procedure involved that there is a pot of learning and engagement at the end of the procedure rainbow.

When you do that miracles will happen.

In my book The Behaviour Ambulance, I list around about eighty procedures for dealing with difficult classroom behaviour.

The simplest procedure that all schools need to have in place is to be early to class and to win the first seven minutes.

If there is only one procedure you should really take note of, this is it.

Starting strong is the key to a happy relationship with even the most difficult of classes.

It is all about preparation and perseverance and it can change your teaching life.

It goes like this

Greet your students at the door and welcome them in.

Have something easy for them to do already waiting for them on the desk.

Welcome late comers and direct them to their seat and work.

When everyone is settled, have them put the easy work away.

Start the teaching with a dazzling hook that will get them interested so they forget to be bored.

This seven minutes of magic will set the lesson up, neutralise the late comers who disrupt your teaching flow, get them following interesting material and give you a chance to teach.

Each one of these steps is simple and can work for any year level and every subject.

The biggest obstacles that will wreck this are usually school based demands.

An announcement on the PA can destroy a lesson. So too will a student coming in very late to class (usually because they were sent out in a previous lesson for disrupting a class) as will interruptions for students to go to specialist lessons.

Develop the procedure of protesting vehemently when these things happen so that others learn that the first seven minutes matter the most.

Have wonderful day, we hope to see you at our Bali Teachers Retreat or your school very soon!

Greg Mitchell

We are working hard to build relationships with schools for the delivery of our programs in 2019. If you think your school would benefit from our committed support to improve staff well-being and the way we educate please email us using the email below.
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