How you start your day is often how you live your life.
What happens before the first bell even rings has a huge impact on the outcome of the entire day.
The tone of the day is established in the first 20 minutes of the day.
The effectiveness of the entire day is established in the first 20 minutes of the day.
If mornings are a mad scramble, if students are aimlessly filling time until class starts, you will spend the rest of the day playing catch-up. Mornings like this short change your students. They diminish the effectiveness of everything you do.
And they burn out teachers!
However, if your mornings are centered on efficient routines–if students know what to do and you have a few moments to tackle your own to-do list–the day builds a powerful momentum that will carry you through to that 3 o’clock bell.
Good days start with good beginnings.
Making a Plan
All battles are won before they are fought.
The creation of an effective, efficient classroom starts long before the first student arrives.
You need a game plan. You have to prepare.
Think of everything you have to accomplish in the first 30 minutes of the school day. Attendance must be submitted, lunch money collected, parent notes responded to, children welcomed and validated, permission slips collected, homework gathered, announcements listened to, lunch orders taken, take-home books exchanged…Not to mention any last-minute preparation for the day’s actual lessons.
There’s a lot to get done!
There’s no single right way to tackle all of those tasks. The solutions will vary from class to class and school to school.
But there is one golden rule applicable in all situations: Don’t let busy time become wasted time.
In order to make those first hurried minutes useful, you need to establish clear procedures. Rules, routines, and procedures are important throughout the school day, but especially first thing in the morning.
In his book, The First Days of School, Harry Wong cites a study that identified 4 characteristics of productive management. They are:
- Students know what is expected of them and are generally successful doing it.
- There is relatively little wasted time, confusion, or disruption.
- Students are engaged in meaningful instructional activities.
- The climate of the classroom is work-oriented but relaxed and pleasant.
If your classroom is running effectively, these characteristics are present in every aspect of the day–including in your classroom routines. When that happens, not only do you maximize those busy morning minutes, but you launch yourself into a positive and peaceful day!
These 4 characteristics set the stage for beginning a successful school day.
Because each teacher has unique needs, the routines in your room must be tailored to your specific situation. But you don’t have to craft that plan alone! We have a free guide that will walk you through how to effectively structure your mornings so they serve as a productive and positive start to the day.
We’ll help you identify goals and key areas of focus, develop a streamlined routine, and make a plan to teach your procedures. By the end, you’ll have a personalized routine for morning success!
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Step 1: List Your Morning Tasks
Print out the free download to help you plan your morning routines. Begin by listing all the things you need to get done in the morning. Don’t forget to include things like running copies, playground supervision, welcoming students…list everything you do!
Next, list everything you need from your students at the start of the day.
- When can they enter the room?
- How should they enter the room?
- How is breakfast handled?
- Where do their belongings go?
- Where does their homework go?
- Where do parent notes go?
- Where do lunch money, book orders, and permission slips all go?
- How do they mark attendance?
- How do they mark their lunch choice?
- Do they respond to a morning message? Where? How?
- Where do they get the materials they need for the day?
- When do they get started?
- What happens before the bell? After the bell?
A lot of these answers will depend on your school. Maybe all your kids come into the room at once or maybe they arrive slowly over 40 minutes. Regardless of your situation, list everything that has to happen before school even starts.
If you’re still enjoying summer break, imagine yourself as one of your students and think through everything you would do from the moment you enter school.
If school is already in session, sit back one morning and note everything you see your students doing. Don’t forget little steps like unstacking a chair or filling a water bottle.
Keep listing everything that occurs between the kids arriving at school and you beginnning the day’s teaching. You may need a couple of sheets of paper!
Step 2: Analyze Your Tasks
Remember those 4 characteristics I mentioned earlier? Here’s where they come into play.
Use the Components of a Successful Morning page (from the free download) and begin sorting the tasks you’ve listed. Look at each item from your task list and your students’ task list and determine which category it meets.
Some tasks may be a challenge to categorize. Don’t worry–there’s no right or wrong answer!
For example, in my classroom, the students marked their lunch choice as soon as they entered the room. I might list that under Students Know What’s Expected since it’s a student responsibility. Or I might list it under Minimized wasted time or confusion since this is a key component in effectively having attendance and lunch choices submitted.
Or I might list it under both headings!
Go with what feels right to you. The most important thing right now is to reflect, not to perfect.
Pay special attention to any items on your list that don’t fit any category. Underline, star, or circle these items. You’ll want to revisit them later.
Step 3: Identify Areas for Growth
With your task list sorted, look over your Components of a Successful Morning page. Do you spot any holes? Maybe you don’t have much listed under Focused, but pleasant climate. Maybe Minimized wasted time or confusion is a little sparse.
The categories don’t need to have an equal number of tasks. In fact, most of your list likely falls under the Students know what’s expected heading. But ideally there should be at least one item in each category.
Now it’s time to set some goals.
Print the Morning Routine Goals page from the download.
Ask yourself: what would my ideal morning look like in each of these categories? Write down your thoughts! Go ahead, I’ll wait…
…Good! Now that you’ve got that done, look back at the tasks you sorted on the Components of a Successful Morning page. Have you included those tasks on your goal sheet? If not, do it now.
If you have any items from your task lists that didn’t fit any categories (the ones you circled and starred). Let’s revisit those.
- Do they really need to be done?
- Do they have to be done by you? Can you assign them to your students? Can you move them to another time of the day?
- Can you eliminate them completely???
What tasks might you need to add to your morning to meet your goals?
Students know what’s expected:
- Do you have a clear idea of exactly what you want students to do?
- Do students know what to do as soon as they arrive?
- Do they know how to fill time before the bell?
- Do they understand what to do once they hear the bell?
- Are they successful at completing their responsibilities?
Minimal wasted time or confusion:
- Do you organize for efficiency?
- Is there a place for everything? Do the students know how to access and use these spaces?
- What should students do if they need your help? How should they get your attention?
- What tasks can students take responsibility for?
- Can you add to any existing classroom jobs?
- Can you create new jobs? Don’t saddle yourself with tasks the children are capable of completing!
- Where do they get materials?
- When do they get materials?
- How should they get materials?
Meaningful instructional activities:
- What are your students capable of doing independently while you accomplish your morning to-do list?
- What can you provide to meaningfully use the time without creating more work for yourself?
- How will you introduce the assignment to students? What should they do if they have questions?
- What should fast-finishers do when they’ve completed the assignment or activity?
- Is there a consequence for not finishing?
- Will you correct, collect, and/or grade the activity?
Work focused, but pleasant climate:
- How will you welcome students in the morning?
- Will you play music as students arrive? While they work?
- Will you make use of a morning message? Where will students respond? When will you discuss responses?
- Will you use a Morning Meeting? Where will the meeting happen? What components will you implement?
- How do you recognize your students as individuals?
- How do you develop a classroom community?
- What social skills do students need to be successful in your class?
- How will you teach and practice those skills?
- Will you use meditation or other mindfulness practice?
Consider your response to these questions and add ideas to your goal sheet. By now you should be getting a pretty good idea of what needs to occur in your class each morning!
Step 4: Determine Efficient Order
Once you’ve outlined the components of a successful morning routine, you need to determine the order that the steps should be completed.
Some things are obvious (you can’t correct Morning Work until it’s completed!), but some will require deeper planning.
Should students hang up backpacks before making their lunch choices? Do they turn in homework and lunch money at the same place? Do they get a chair or a pencil first? Are they keeping a water bottle at their desks? When do they fill that? What should they do if they arrive before the bell rings? What do they do if they’re late?
The order of your routine depends on your goals, the layout of your room, and your class’s individual needs. Try to determine the most efficient order for steps to be completed.
But don’t worry–you’re not married to this plan! If, down the road, you realize you forgot an important step or you need to rearrange steps, it’s okay. It’s obviously easier to teach a certain order right from the start, but don’t be afraid to course-correct if your routine isn’t working quite right.
Use the Our Morning Routine list from the free download to sequence the steps in your routine.
Step 5: Teach & Practice Procedures
Basically, the morning routine is one long procedure with many, many steps. It will take days–even weeks–to get everything running smoothly, but tackle one procedure at a time until they’re able to complete the process independently and accurately.
We recommend teaching procedures using a 3-step method: Tell, Try, and Tally.
First, explain and model the procedure (tell). Second, give students a chance to practice with feedback from you (try). Third, have students rate and reflect on how well they met your expectations (tally).
Then practice, practice, practice till they get it right!
You can read more about how we introduce procedures in this post.
The best way to teach procedures is to actually teach procedures! You should provide a formal introduction for each routine you want your students to complete. Use the 3-Step Lesson Plan to write out exactly what you want your students to be able to do.
When Things Don’t Go As Planned
The great thing in life is efficiency…Your time is valuable, your energy precious. They are your success capital, and you cannot afford to heedlessly throw them away or trifle with them.
–Orison Swett Marden
Remember that, despite your best intentions, there will be mornings that don’t start on the right note.
Maybe a parent showed up at 8:45 for an IEP scheduled at 4:00 and you’re hauled into that meeting at the last minute (true story).
Maybe a little one returns from breakfast only to find it didn’t agree with her and is sick all over her desk and all the desks around her (true story).
Maybe someone saved a bird from their dog, brought it to school, and it’s now flying around your classroom (true story).
It’s in these unexpected moments that your procedures matter most.
Those predictable routines are what allow you to get back on track and recover the day from even the most inauspicious beginning.
Crafting an efficient morning is a process. But if you take the time to shape your ideal routine, you’ll soon find your class humming along like a well-oiled machine!
Routine is a powerful tool in the classroom. Work it to your advantage. Let the peaceful start of the morning carry you into a smoothly running afternoon.
Beginnings matter. By identifying your goals, making intentional decisions, and clearly teaching your expectations, you set yourself and (your students!) up for a successful day.
Want to see my 2nd grade morning routine in action? Click here to read about my 2nd grade morning routine.
If you’re looking for additional resources to help you organize your morning routines, check out (some affiliate links):
- Download the Free Morning Routines Planning Guide
- The First Six Weeks of School from Responsive Classroom
- Tools for Teaching by Fred Jones
- The First Days of School by Harry Wong
- Tools for Guided Discovery
- The First Day of School in 2nd Grade
- The First Week of School in 2nd Grade
- Morning Work
- Morning Messages