One Thing You Can Do Today To Instill Independence In Your Students

There is one thing, as a fourth grade teacher, that frustrates me more than most things.

I’m sure I’m not the only one…please tell me I’m not the only one….

I try to be patient… I really do….

The one thing that frustrates me the most is students’ inability to read & then follow directions.

It’s not the challenge of actually reading/comprehending the directions… although I do know that sometimes that’s what the issue is… as well as language barriers…. but in general… when the directions are right there…. and they still ask those silly questions….  you know the ones…

Anyway… reading deficiencies and language barriers aside, here is something I implement in my classroom to help instill and reinforce both students’ direction reading and independence.

My Morning Routine:

  • Before students arrive I put on music, turn on the SMARTboard, open up my morning SMARTboard, and turn my lamps on…
  • Students walk in and I greet them (I greet every single student – sometimes I take grading with me to the door, but for the first few months I am always standing at the door ready to greet each student)
  • They unpack & check the SMARTboard (you could use an easel/whiteboard)
    • On the SMARTboard I put a welcome message, directions for everything they need to do during breakfast, and any important announcements for the day
    • I use student friendly vocabulary, for primary grades or ELL students, you could include pictures
    • I try not to include too many steps – to ensure the type is large enough for students to see & read
  • They follow the directions until announcements begin
  • I reinforce the behavior with class dojo points
  • If students ask me what to do – I refer them to the board… if a student is not following the directions, I remind them to check the board

I have an expectation that this routine is done in silence… of course I allow quiet greetings, but overall – students know that they are to come in calmly and get ready for the day. I’ve found that if I allow talking, it very quickly gets out of control and that calm environment is lost.

As I mentioned in my dismissal routine post, many of my students live in chaotic situations, neighborhoods, or homes – I want them to know that our classroom is a calm and orderly place where they know what to expect (most of the time…).

After the first couple of months, it is like a well oiled machine. I leave the SMARTboard for substitutes to use too and have received comments about how smoothly the morning routine has gone, because the students know exactly what to do. I’ve also noticed that students who struggle with focusing and organization, and anxious students really benefit and appreciate the list.

Here is an example of what I might have posted on my SMARTboard:

Morning routine learning wholeheartedly

If you teach primary grades, you could use pictures, just be sure to explicitly teach what each picture represents and what students should do when they see that picture.

It would be pretty easy to print off your morning list for students who would benefit from a physical check list on their desks too.

We are a Title I school – so we have breakfast available to all students in the classroom… so we have 20 minutes. If you get your day started as soon as all students are seated… you could still use something similar if you have seat work waiting for them, a warm up, or even if students come in and sit to get ready for a morning meeting. I’m sure most of us have at least 5 – 10 minutes where we are waiting for all our students to arrive and be ready to begin the day.

Bonus: Sometimes I sneak in something completely random, to see which students are actually reading every single step. Those students receive some sort of reward.

What do you do to ensure the morning starts off calmly? 

Have you noticed that your students also struggle with following written (or verbal) directions? How do you strengthen this skill throughout the day?

MrsB_Final Signature


Avoiding the chaos of dismissal time

The bell rings for dismissal.

It becomes a free for all – students rushing to pack up – the teacher yelling last minute reminders, trying to get a handle on the chaos – the first bus is called – Carlos runs out without his permission slip…

Finally the room is silent and void of students. As the teacher catches her breath amidst the war zone (well, it might as well be). The next ten minutes are spent stacking forgotten chairs, throwing away questionable tissues, and wrangling AWOL pencils.

What if I told you that this is not the only way. There is another way, and it’s pretty simple to implement. It simply requires consistency and clear expectations.

After my first year teaching, I was FED UP with dismissal and ending my day frazzled and relieved to have my students gone. That’s not the teacher I wanted to be, and it’s not the type of environment I wanted for my students. Also, our students often live in chaotic homes – I wanted dismissal to be one last moment of calm for them, before they had to go home.

dismissal routine learning wholeheartedly.jpg



My students last year could not handle going to the carpet… here is my variation on the above mentioned routine… it may also be a better option for you?

dismissal routine2 learning wholeheartedly.jpg

3 Essential Things to Remember

  • This process takes some time at first – so make sure to begin dismissal early for the first few weeks
  • Be consistent – make sure students understand your expectations – if a student talks – send them back…
  • They should become more efficient every day — you could start timing them and see if they can beat their “best time”
  • The reason why dismissal is so crazy is because we feel like we have a time limit and if the students don’t leave as they’re called…off with her headThat being said – DO NOT PANIC!! Send students back to their seats if they talk… what’s the worst thing that can happen? You have to call to have a bus held for a student? Do it! Students will know if you feel powerless during dismissal and they’ll take advantage of it. Just remember to leave enough time for this process as students are learning who is boss…I mean, as they are learning the new routine. But in all seriousness, dismissal habits can be difficult to break, but it’s possible and oh so worth it! 
  • If the process is going a little slow… you can always have 2 students packing up at a time… maybe a boy and a girl.
  • The last step should be a goodbye ritual between you and your students – I always offer my students a handshake, high five, or hug… this year I may throw in a fun “secret” handshake! The students know that they cannot walk out my door until they say goodbye to me. 


How do you handle dismissal in your classroom? I’m always looking for new ideas and as we all know, what may have worked this year, with this group of students, may not work with my next group of students! PLEASE share your ideas/procedure in the comments below!  


If you try one of these procedures, please let me know how it goes! I’d love to hear feedback! 🙂 

MrsB_Final Signature

How to Keep Your Custodians Happy

I don’t know about your custodians, but we have the best custodians around. We are in a 60 year old building (give or take a couple years)…so needless to say, there are many challenges that our custodians have to tackle on a daily basis.

Considering that the custodians have to sweep and clean every classroom floor – the least we can do is make sure that the floor is picked up (that is the strangest American saying in my opinion) and chairs are stacked – so that sweeping is as simple as sweeping should be.

That being said…

Teachers have SO much on their plates too – the least important of which is picking up the floor (I really can’t get the image of someone literally trying to pick up a floor out of my head).

Enter….. Mystery Trash.

Mystery Trash game

Sometimes I have to play a second round, because the mystery item is not cleaned up and time ran out. Sometimes we keep going until the room is spotless. There are no steadfast rules – I’ve known teachers who don’t even pick a piece of trash until the room is almost clean… I can’t live on the edge like that. Although, sometimes I miss my item being cleaned up and my students get an opportunity to demonstrate trustworthiness.

I generally play this game during dismissal, but you could do a 20 second round of Mystery Trash as a transition between lessons, before lunch, or after a particularly messy activity. The possibilities are endless.

There is nothing more satisfying than seeing students put ANYTHING and EVERYTHING away…they straighten… they tidy…. it’s AAHHHMAAAZING!!

Have you ever played Mystery Trash or a version of it? 

If so, does it work for you? If not, do you have a different way to get students to help clean up?

Disclaimer: I’d love to say that we don’t have to play this game… that my students take such pride and ownership in our classroom that the extrinsic reward is never necessary… but let’s be real…. that’s still a work in progress, and if I ever get that buy in to the same degree as “Mystery Trash” … I’ll be sure to share how I did it. If you’ve done it…please feel free to share!!! 

MrsB_Final Signature