"Decide what behaviours are appropriate in line. Some teachers, particularly of younger children, have to specify where hands and feet should be while students are lined up. Some teachers have students clasp their hands behind their backs; others have students keep their hands at their sides. Line leaders can be helpful, and students enjoy the privilege. Because noise disturbs other classes, talking is usually forbidden while the line is passing through the halls."
- Carolyn M. Evertson and Edmund T. Emmer,
Classroom Management For Elementary Teachers 8th ed., 2009, p. 31
As we enter into our third week of school I have been reflecting on some of the procedures that we have been teaching in our room as part of our September start up. We have been focusing very heavily on teaching social problem skills, clean up routines and line up procedures. Our thinking is that if we focus on these skills early, children will be able to focus more on learning and playing for the rest of the year.
We practice lining up when we line up to go to the gym for PE, when we line up to go outside, and when we practiced for the fire drill that we had in the first week of school.
Last week, we went on a walk of the school so that we could show the new students (the JK and new SK students) where the office is for taking down the attendance. We have not allowed any of the JK students to go yet, only the SK students who were at the school last year, partnered with a new SK student.
For our trip through the school the SKs from last year came with us too... because everyone else was going. We started our walk with the old adage, hand on your hip, finger on your lip. We made sure that everyone was standing in a nice straight line with their eyes and feet facing forward.
One student was standing beside the line, so we told her to go to the end of the line. She looked around and joined where she was standing. We corrected, "go to the end of the line". She stepped out, looked around and stepped right back in where she was. This repeated a few more times before I showed her where the end of the line was and told her to stand there. Finally, we were off.
We moved maybe 5 feet and several students put their hands on the wall to run their fingers on the painted cinder block as they walked. I told them to put their hands down. This repeated several times as we made it down the hallway. Again and again, "put your hands down" or "don't touch the wall".
Some students began to point and whisper as we walked past open classroom doors. I corrected with a louder Shhhh.
One of our smallest JK students began to walk off set of the line so our nice straight line was interrupted. I corrected again and told her to walk in line with everyone else.
We continued like this for a few more feet and then I had a thought, "What am I doing?????"
I was really disturbed by what I was hearing coming out of my mouth. I was really bothered by the way that I was feeling as we walked down the hallway. I was feeling frustrated and annoyed that they weren't walking in a nice straight line and that they were talking. But why was I doing this to myself, why was I doing this to them?
The Image of the Child
I took a step back from this experience and took a closer look at what the students were doing when I was correcting them.
- Why did the returning SK students come with us when they already know where they are going? Did they need to be part of this experience? What could they have been doing instead?
- Was finding the end of the line difficult because she couldn't see where the end of the line was?
- Does she know what 'the end of the line' means?
- Were they touching the walls because they had never seen walls like that before?
- Were they running their fingers along the wall to feel the grooves and bumps?
- Were they walking offset because the person in front of them was too tall and they couldn't see where they were going?
- Were they pointing and whispering because they saw a teacher they knew? A friend? A sibling?
- How does their view of me change as I constantly correct them?
- How does my view of them change as I become frustrated?
So why do we teach line up procedures like this?
During the summer I had a conversation with the wonderful Ellen Brown about lining up. She made the really good point that we spend a lot of time and energy to teach children to line up like this, especially in the primary grades... but when they go to middle school, high school and then as adults no one lines up like this. We walk in pairs or groups, we discuss and laugh as we walk. So why is this behavior 'forbidden' in the primary grades? Despite having this conversation in the summer, why did I try to teach line up procedures like this?
I understand that line up procedures are important for safety. We have to know how to line up for fire drills and other emergency situations.
Line up procedures are also important because we have to be respectful of other classrooms and not be running and shouting in the hallways. But are we teaching respect in the hallways or are we teaching compliance?
It has been suggested to me in the past that if we don't enforce these line up rules that our class will become "that class" and we will be judged by other teachers.
As I think about it now though, why is the teacher with a curious class judged but the perfectly silent children following an equally silent teacher not judged? Further more, why are we judging each other at all? Are we not all colleagues? Peers? Co-teachers?
Rethink, Repeat, Remove
A common theme that seems to be emerging in my reflections on this blog is the idea of everything in moderation, the right time in the right place.
Yes, line up procedures are important but do we really need to come down hard in the first few weeks before offering an opportunity to explore? Is it really appropriate to teach line up procedures in such a strict way in kindergarten?
What do your line up procedures look like in kindergarten? What can you rethink, repeat or remove from your procedures?