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Mastering Morning Routines [episode 20]

Mastering your classroom morning routine!

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Morning Message: 

[00:56] What was your first job?

Everyone remembers their first job because we all had to start somewhere. Our first jobs were at a snack bar at the local skating rink and working at a dry cleaner. As we reminisced, it’s funny to look back at what we remembered about each job. For example, we remember how horrible it was handling the cotton candy machine and the way we processed credit cards back in the day.

We’d love to hear your responses to this question and future questions, so let us know over on Instagram!

Here’s an overview of episode 20:

Happy Monday and welcome back to another episode! We’ve been talking a lot lately about how to start back to school effectively and setting yourself and your students up for success. One of the most important ways to have an efficient classroom is through quality procedures and routines that are aligned with your goals. And one routine we feel passionate about is a morning routine. In today’s episode, we’re sharing tips on mastering morning routines for a successful classroom.

It has been said that what happens before the first bell even rings, has a huge impact on the outcome of the entire day. Wow, that’s a powerful statement! Which explains why mastering morning routines is so important. But how do you do that effectively?

Honestly, there’s no right or wrong way to start your day. What’s important is to purposefully select an activity that aligns with your goals. And regardless of what you choose, keep it simple and routine enough that it can be completed without active guidance from you. 

We model our morning routines off of Harry Wong’s book The First Days of School where he outlines the 4 characteristics of productive management. After each routine is identified, make sure they’re aligned with your goals and what you want students to accomplish within your morning routine. Afterward, we talk about how to implement and practice each routine through our Tell, Try, Tally method. 

When it comes to mastering morning routines, our motto is: Good days start with good beginnings. Having an established morning routine allows your students to know what’s expected, they’re able to work independently, while also giving you time to check things off your to-do list. The key is to be consistent, but in doing so, you’ll have an efficient and successful classroom by mastering morning routines.

In this episode on mastering your classroom morning routine, we discuss:

  • A planning guide that will help you establish your morning routines
  • Questions to ask yourself in relation to Harry Wong’s 4 characteristics of productive management
  • The importance of introducing each step in your morning routine, specifically and individually
  • How we use the Tell, Try, Tally method to effectively teach each of our morning routines

This week’s teacher approved tip:

[24:19] Prepare supplies for any new students ahead of time.

Ever have a student come halfway through the year, and then you’re scrambling trying to gather materials you already prepared for back in August? That’s why we suggest you create a bag full of supplies for new students when you’re already preparing for the new school year. 

Some of those items may include desk and name tags, books, supplies, copies of materials, class job signs, etc. Another bonus tip is to send yourself an email about where you keep this bag of goodies for new students in your email. That way you’re not scrambling when the time comes. This tip will definitely save you time later down the road!

What we’re giving extra credit to this week:

[26:10] Heidi is giving extra credit to Sleeping at Last

[27:17] Emily is giving extra credit to Greenlight Debit Card for Kids


If you enjoyed this episode on mastering your classroom morning routine, you’ll love these too:

Read the transcript for episode 20, Mastering Morning Routines:

Hey there, thanks for joining us today. In today’s episode, we’re taking a deep dive into morning routines. And we’ll share a teacher approved tip for preparing for new students who arrive mid year.

We start our episodes with a morning message just like we used to do at morning meeting in our classrooms. This week’s morning message is what was your first job? I already know the answer to this, Heidi, but go ahead and tell me anyway, I was a snack bar girl at the local skating rink. Consequently, I know all of the words to YMCA, not just the chorus. And I have an abiding aversion to cotton candy. I worked the Friday night session. And before we could leave at midnight, we had to fill the cotton candy line. So that was the wire that stretched the length of the snack bar and it had to be stuffed with cotton candy for the Saturday morning kids who would come so I would just go home covered in pink or blue sugar. It’d be in my eyelids and my hair down my shirt. And I just I cannot even abide looking at content. Now it is evil. Anyone who’s had to work for school carnival and had to do the cotton candy machine for that knows your pain. Oh, it is rough. What about you Emily? What was your first job? Well, my first job was working at a dry cleaner. It was a really small location and the dry cleaning was all done off site. So I had to take in the orders, tag them all with the super cool pointy gun thing and prepare them to get picked up for cleaning. I was involved in starching shirts and using the super cool folding machine to fold up dress shirts and put them into these little bags. They looked like brand new shirts. After that it was really satisfying, I have to admit. And then I had to get customers their orders when they came to pick them up. We had one of those rotating racks that you’d spin through to get to the person’s order, also very satisfying. And I want to note that at this job, I had to use one of those old school credit card machines that you young people have probably never even seen before where you take a carbon copy of their card. I still sometimes can’t believe I’m old enough that we process credit cards. I’ve never I’ve never had my card run that way I remember it happening but my card has never been run that way. Yeah, it’s crazy. It doesn’t seem very efficient. But at the time I guess it was can I confess I have never been to a dry cleaner and used to work it when so many different lives. I’ve had very little of my own clothes dry cleaned. I will say that. We’d love to hear your input on this topic and lots of others over on Instagram. You can find us at @2ndstorywindow and that’s what the two.

For an upcoming episode we’re collecting the very best back to school tips from the most amazing teachers we know: you! To share your tips send us an email at with the subject line Back to School Tip, or even better, leave us a voice memo so we can share your awesome tips straight from you head to

What happens before the first bell even rings has a huge impact on the outcome of the entire day. Roxanne Crete said, “The way we begin each day in our classroom sets the tone for learning and speaks volumes about what and whom we value about our expectations for the way we will treat each other and about the way we believe learning occurs.” 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 mad scramble, if your students are aimlessly filling time until class starts, you will spend the rest of the day playing catch up. Warnings like this shortchange your students, they diminish the effectiveness of everything you do and they burn out the 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 three o’clock bell. Good days start with good beginnings.

So how do you start your school day? It’s a question every teacher has to answer for themselves. There’s a lot to consider when you think about the first 60 minutes of a school day. And there are an endless number of activities you could choose to include in your morning routine. There’s no right or wrong way to start your day. What’s actually important is to purposefully select an activity that aligns with your goals. And regardless of what you choose, keep it simple enough and routine enough that it can be completed without active guidance from you. Think of everything you have to accomplish in those first 30 minutes of the day. Attendance must be submitted, lunch money collected, parent notes responded to, children welcomed and validated, permission slips collected, homework gathered, announcements, listen to lunch orders taken, take home books exchanged, not to mention any last minute preparations for the day’s actual lessons. There’s a lot to get done. And there’s no single right way to tackle all of those tasks. 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 four 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. And the last one is 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 four characteristics are what set the stage for beginning a successful school day.

We created a morning routines planning guide that you can use to help you decide what morning routines you need, and plan how to introduce them to your class. The first thing you want to do when you’re planning your morning routines, is start by listing all the things you need to get done in the morning. And don’t forget to include things like running copies, playground supervision, welcoming students list, everything you do. Next lists everything you need from your students at the start of the day. 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. And if you’re still enjoying summer break, right now, imagine yourself as one of your students and think through everything you would do from the moment you enter school. Where do they enter your room? What do they do the minute they walk in the door? Where do they go next? Think through that step by step. And that will help you list the tasks they need to do and the tasks you need to do. So if you remember back to those four characteristics from Harry Wong, here’s where they’re going to come into play. Use the components of a successful morning page from the download and begin sorting the tasks you’ve listed. Look at each item from your list of tasks and your students lists and determine which category it meets. As a reminder, those categories are students know what is expected, there’s minimal waste of time or confusion, there’s meaningful instruction activities and a focus pleasant climate. Some tasks may be a challenge to categorize. Don’t worry, there are no right or wrong answers here. No one’s getting graded. For example, in my classroom, the students mark their lunch choice as soon as they enter the room. And I could list this under students know what’s expected since it’s a student responsibility. Or I might list it under minimized wasted time because it’s a key component of effectively having attendance on lunch counts admitted. Or I could list it under post headings if I’m feeling extra. go with what feels right to you. The most important thing right now is to reflect not to perfect and pay special attention to any items on your list that don’t fit any category, underline, star, or circle those items. You want to make it easy for you to revisit them later.

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 focus but pleasant climate. Maybe the minimal wasted time 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. Start by asking yourself, what would my ideal morning look like in each of these categories? Write down your thoughts. really imagine what those areas would look like in your classroom? Have you included all of those tasks on your goal sheet? If not do it now. If you have any items from your task list that didn’t fit any categories, those are the tasks you circled in start a little while ago. Let’s revisit those. Think about those tasks. 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? Or can you eliminate them completely? It sounds radical, but sometimes you can. Now let’s look at what tasks might you need to add to your morning to meet your goals? We have some questions you can ask yourself in each of these areas to determine some tasks you may want to add into your plans to meet your goals. Let’s start with students know what’s expected. Here’s some questions to ask yourself. Do you have a clear idea of exactly what you want students to do? They don’t know what to do if you don’t know what you want them 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 or completing their responsibilities? As you consider these questions, see if you can identify any tasks that need to be added to your morning routines list.

Next step is minimal wasted time or confusion. Here are some questions to ask yourself. Do you organize for efficiency? Is there a place for everything? And 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? 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? And where did they get materials? When did they get materials? How should they get materials? Consider all of these questions and see if you’ve thought of any new tasks you need to add to your morning list.

Our third category to reflect on is students are engaged in meaningful instructional activities. Some questions to consider are what can students do independently while you accomplish your morning to do list? Can’t forget how busy the teacher is at this time. What can you provide to meaningfully use the time without creating more work for yourself? How are you going to introduce this assignment to your students? And what should they do if they have questions? What should your 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? Use these questions to help you decide what will be meaningful work for your students in the morning. What works in one classroom isn’t going to work in another classroom, you need to decide what is the best fit for you and for your students. But just remember, the goal is not busy work. It’s engaged work and also work that can happen without guidance from you.

The next category and the last category is a work focused but pleasant climate. Here are some questions to ask yourself. How will you welcome students in the morning? Will you play music as students arrive or while they work? Will you make use of a morning message? Where will students respond to that message? When will you discuss the 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? And will you use meditation or other mindfulness practice? This is actually one of our favorite things to do. 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. 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, like, you can’t create morning work until it’s completed. But some of these things are going to require some deeper thoughts. Should students hang up their backpacks before making their lunch choice? Do they turn in homework and lunch money at the same place? Do they get a chair or pencil first? Are they keeping a water bottle at their desks? And if so, when do they fill that? What should your students do if they arrive before the bell rings? And what do they do if they’re late? There’s a lot to consider. But don’t worry, because you are not married to this plan. If down the road, you realize you’ve forgotten 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 our morning routine list from that download to sequence the steps in your routine.

And now that you figured out how to turn those frantic morning minutes into a streamlined masterpiece, you have to convince your students they should want that too. Basically, the morning routine is one long procedure with many many steps. It will take days and even weeks to get everything running smoothly. But it is worth the effort. So tackle one procedure at a time until all your adorable forgetful little students are able to complete the process automatically and accurately. When it comes to teaching procedures, we like to use Harry Wong’s method to introduce and practice those procedures. We made up an easy to remember phrase for this, it’s Tell, Try, Tally. First, explain and model the procedure, that’s tell. Second, give students a chance to practice with feedback from you. That’s try. Third have students rate and reflect on how well they met your expectations. That’s tally, then practice, practice, practice, practice some more till they get it right.

So let’s tackle one of our morning routines in action and show how we would tell try and tally that routine. So I’m going to start with what my students did, the first thing they did when they walked into the classroom each day, they would hang up their backpack, they would put their homework folder in the bin for their table, and they would do their lunch card. So at first, I would explain that procedure to them. And I would model it, I would go to the door, I would grab one of their backpacks and pretend it was mine, and model going through all of those steps. You want to be as detailed as you can possibly be. And then list the steps out on the board while you’re teaching this routine. I would act it out like I just said the right way. But I’d also act it out the wrong way. They’ll love to correct you when you do it wrong. And it’ll feel like you’re going overboard. But that’s exactly what we’re going for here.

Next, I’m going to give my students a chance to practice this routine with feedback for me, that’s the try portion. So I would have some volunteers model how to complete this task. So I would assign the rest of the class the important job of evaluating how well they followed the directions. Give me a thumbs up if you think they remembered how to come into the classroom the right way, give me a thumbs down if you think they forgot something. So depending on the complexity of the steps, with whatever routine you’re trying to teach, you might want to do the activity again with a new set of volunteers. So a lot of kids get practice with this. They could follow the steps or purposefully do things the wrong way and have the class point out their mistakes. They love that you could go either way with how you’re going to have them try it out. Then it’s time for the whole class to try it. My class entered my classroom from outside. So I would take them outside line them up at the door just like they do in the morning with their backpacks on. And we’re going to review the steps one last time. Before we go in and actually try going through all of those steps together. After they’ve practiced, then I’d have my students rate and reflect on how well they met my expectations. They usually catch each other’s mistakes, but be sure to point out any errors if they didn’t catch them. You can do this without being critical. Just a simple reminder, like remember, you need to put your take home folder in the homework folder basket. Then practice, practice, practice, practice till they get right. This particular routine I bet they’d get it in one session of this but some of these routines will take more practice than that. And it seems like they have it in the moment and then the next day it’s like all new information. So true.

The best way to teach procedures is to actually teach procedures. Since a morning routine is several procedures linked together, you need to introduce each step in your morning routine, specifically and individually. You should provide a formal introduction for each routine you want your students to complete, use the three step lesson plan to write out exactly what you want your students to be able to do and how you’re going to have them practice. Tell try tally. So let’s talk about how this would look for the component of meaningful instructional activities in my classroom. So Emily, and I had our students do a spiral review in the morning that we called Morning Work. That was our meaningful instructional activity. And so I have, you know, once I trained them on how to come in and do the lunch count, and all of that, we would talk about the routine of getting out their morning work. So I would have kids sit in tables, and then each table had like, a drawer, when those like plastic Sterilite drawers that had all their morning work in it. Whoever was first at the table in the morning, got out the door for the table. So I would have to teach all of this, like, who gets out the drawer? Where does the drawer go on the table? How to use the board, I always use the board with with the page number and what they were supposed to do and the steps in order. So they can always refer back to that if they had a question about what to do. That didn’t always need me, because sometimes I’m making copies. So you’re training them to be able to independent independently know what to do? Absolutely, this needs to run as much as possible without hand holding. So everything’s on the board, I’m training them to reflect on the board, if they if in the coming days, they asked me what to do next, I direct them right back to that board. So they would come in, get out the bin with the morning work, turn to the right page work on the page. And then my fast finishers knew that they were to read from the bin of books at their table. And then at a certain time, everyone who was done would start the first learning session of the day. And then as the kids would finish, they would just make that transition. So everyone was just kind of transitioning at different times. It works really smoothly for aborning. And all of that had to be taught. So I started by telling, I explained it, I wrote it down in steps, we talked about where to find the answers to their questions, I acted it out, I told it in great detail, then I would have some volunteers try it, you know, and let some be the naughty kids. They loved that. And we would make sure that we could get all of those steps down. And then we would try it out as a whole class. This is a little tricky because you’re wanting everyone to maybe finish a morning work page and they’re not getting it all done at the same time. But we monitored and adjusted. And the good thing is they get to try it again tomorrow morning. That is the good thing about morning routines, they’ll get lots of time to practice these.

This sounds like a lot of work because it is but the work you put in now will pay off so much greater than the effort that you’re putting in. So here are your takeaways. List and analyze your morning tasks for you and for your students. Outline your ideal morning routine according to the four characteristics and determine what the efficient order will look like for your classroom. And then plan how you will clearly teach try and tally the steps until your students can do them independently.

Are you ready to have the most successful and stress free back to school season ever? We’re here to help with our free back to school mini course. In this three day private podcast, we will help you plan for success in establishing your perfect classroom procedures and routines. We’re passionate about helping teachers elevate what matters and simplify the rest. And we know this mini course will help you do just that. To sign up, head to

Now let’s talk about this week’s teacher approved tip. Each week we leave you with a small actionable tip that you can apply in your classroom today. This week’s teacher approved tip is prepare supplies for any new students ahead of time. Heidi, tell us about this. So maybe this isn’t on your mind right now. But it’s something you’re going to want to think about before you head back. So as you’re prepping your room, save yourself the hassle and prepare bags of materials for any new students you might get during the year. If your school doesn’t get a lot of new kids, you might only need to make a couple. But if you have a lot of turnover, you might need to prep several. So just when you’re already pulling together the materials for your incoming students start to make some piles for extras for new kids. Think about things like desk name tags, any school supplies, folders, notebooks. Anything each student would need, and then tuck it into one of those like gallon ziplock bags or anything else that was big enough to store it. You can’t close a gallon ziplock bag if it’s got like a notebook and folder in it, but it’ll hold stuff well enough. Don’t forget to include things like a birthday certificate if you use those or a name tag for the job chart. If you use sticks to draw names to call in kids, you’ll want to put some blank sticks in, or a magnet for the lunch count all the little pieces that make your classroom run and you don’t want to have to be scrounging up at the last minute. And can I just add, I often prepare things in advance and then cannot remember where I put them. It’s so frustrating. And so I actually I send myself emails with a really descriptive subject line that I’ll be able to search for later. And so when I decide where I’m going to put things, I’ll send myself an email to know where they are. And then when a new student comes in, if I can’t remember, I run to my email and go, where are those new student backs? And then I’ll remember what cabinet I stashed them in perfect.

To wrap up the show we’re sharing what we’re giving extra credit to this week. Heidi, what are you giving extra credit to? I am giving extra credit to Sleeping at Last, which sounds like it should be a band but it’s just one guy. I love him. His name is Ryan. If you aren’t familiar with Sleeping at Last music, if you’ve seen the Twilight movies, you’ve definitely heard his music, or Grey’s Anatomy. Yes, musics on Grey’s Anatomy constantly. But he’s just so much more than his little those little spots on TV. It’s really beautiful, dreamy, usually has some like really deep meaning behind it. So I love his podcast where he does like a deep dive into like all the hidden meaning and layers to each song. It’s just really pretty and peaceful. And I just love it. Me too. My favorite song from him is North. Oh, that’s so beautiful. So it’s definitely worth checking out. He also has a lot of instrumental music. So if you want music you can play in your classroom. That is just perfect to just background music for quiet little happy working children. Yes, when we were homeschooling during the pandemic, we listened to a lot of Sleeping at Last while we were working on that’s a good idea. Emily, what are you giving extra credit to today? I’m giving extra credit to Greenlight. It is a kid’s debit card that I have for all three of my kids, I can easily pay them for the jobs they do. Because I’m trying to give them experience with earning money budgeting and saving for items they really want. So I give them a certain amount of money every week, that’s not really tied to chores. And then they can do extra jobs to earn more money. If they want something while we’re at the store, I can ask them if they want to spend their own money on it, then they can look right on the app to see how much money they have and decide if that’s the way they want to spend it. So it’s giving them a lot more ownership over their spending. Only my oldest actually uses the physical debit card to pay for things in the store. And she keeps it in her own little wallet. It’s been really good to help her practice checking how much money she has before she shops, and then learn how to use the card and the pin in the store. With my younger two kids, I still pay for the item for them at the store. And then they reimburse me through the app. You can also do investing with this app, which my oldest and middle child have both started doing. It’s been a bit of a bummer this year. terrible timing, really terrible timing, honestly, like the the week that they first started investing is like when the market was really taking it. But it’s also been a good real life example of just buying and holding, even when the market is not performing well. I’ve also been incentivizing their investments by offering to match the money they invest. And it’s just been a really good learning opportunity for my kids. And also I think a lot of parents pay their kids a little money for either for jobs or for allowance, and not having to actually manage the physical money has been a real relief for me. And also I don’t trust my kids to not lose it. And they’re really invested in how much money they have and how far they can make it stretch. Oh, yes. One of my kids is a saver more than another one who’s always like, How much money do I have? Can we go shopping. And it’s fun for them to look to check in on their investments, although it has been more of a bummer since their investments have mostly been shrinking instead of growth. Yeah, that that Netflix one seemed like such a sure bet. I was really excited about that one. That one’s done the worst of all of stocks my kids have this year but it’s just a really great app and I highly recommend it.

That’s it for today’s episode. Start planning your perfect morning routines. And don’t forget today’s teacher approved tip for preparing supplies for new students who may join your classroom mid year. Thank you for listening.

More About Teacher Approved:

Do you ever feel like there’s just not enough time in the day to be the kind of teacher you really want to be? The Teacher Approved podcast is here to help you learn how to elevate what matters and simplify the rest. Join co-hosts Emily and Heidi of Second Story Window each week as they share research-based and teacher-approved strategies you can count on to make your teaching more efficient and effective than ever before.