All routines play an important role in the classroom, so which do you teach first?

Try identifying and establishing some keystones.

In The Power of Habit, author Charles Duhigg writes about keystone habits: routines or habits that people establish that carry over into other aspects of their lives. A keystone habit is one that has a ripple effect; once it is established, other routines seem to fall into place. Routine exercise is a good example: when people exercise regularly, it tends to lead to other positive changes, such as eating more healthfully and thinking more positively.

Try applying Duhigg’s idea to help you prioritize the long list of routines that educators establish with students at the beginning of the year. With a few keystone habits in place—ones that nurture a safe and supportive community and lead to other positive habits—the list of routines we need to establish may not seem so daunting.

Which habits could be keystones?

Here are three essentials:

  1. Signal for attention:
    Responding quickly and reliably to a signal gets students in the habit of being aware and responsive to others in the room—keys for successful sharing and discussion.
  2. Entering the classroom:
    Getting ready right away to learn is good practice for efficient, smooth transitions throughout the day, an important habit of engagement.
  3. Cleanup:
    Mothers everywhere can relate to this! When students get into the routine of picking up, replacing, and organizing, they develop responsibility for their environment as well as for classroom materials and their own belongings.

Keystone habits for class routines may be especially valuable for students who are struggling to succeed: they could set him or her on the path to improvement.

One of my math students, Joseph, practically never handed in assignments—neither work in class nor homework. His papers always got lost, or he forgot when an assignment was due, or the dog . . . well, never mind. For him, the habits of writing due dates in his planner and putting papers in folders seemed to be the keys to work completion. Completing his work led to better understanding of content, and increased understanding led to higher confidence in math.

What are the keystone routines in your classroom?

Erin Klug taught intermediate and middle grades in Minneapolis for more than a decade before taking a position as Professional Development Specialist and Consultant for The Origins Program.

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