Setting up Systems: Shifting from Discipline to Procedures

Author: Stephanie Heinchon, Literacy Specialist


The start of the 2012-2013 school year is around the corner!  This is the time of year when we begin to think about our classroom rules and to develop our classroom management plan.   But what if, instead, we shift our thinking from discipline to procedures?  Harry Wong says, “The number one problem in the classroom is not discipline: it is the lack of procedures and routines.”




  • Discipline concerns how students behave.
  • Discipline has penalties and rewards.
  • Procedures concern how things are done.
  • Procedures have no penalties or rewards.


Behavior problems often result because the students do not know the procedures or they haven’t been explicitly ‘trained’ to follow procedures.  As we begin our year, we have to launch the systems we want in place for the remainder of the school year, such as centers and reading/writing workshop.  These systems have procedures we expect students to follow the entire year.  When “training” students on procedures, we can follow the gradual release of responsibility, or the I DO, WE DO, YOU DO model.



When introducing procedures and routines, the teacher must first model and teach the students what is expected, then allow the students to practice the procedures.  The first few weeks of school are an ideal time to launch these systems.  This does not mean we wait 21 days to begin instruction, but that we take 5 to 15 minutes a day to teach students exactly what we want them to do during centers and reading/writing workshop.


Let’s use literacy centers as an example.


Week 1: During the first week of launching centers, model the routines and procedures for one or two centers.  The goal is to build confidence in the students’ ability to work independently at those centers while building stamina.  The teacher is monitoring the students this week.


Week 2: During the second week of launching centers, introduce another center or two, modeling the expected routines and procedures.  Allow students to practice transitioning from center to center.  This week is an ideal time for the teacher to begin pulling students, one-on-one, for beginning of year assessments.


Week 3: During week three, introduce the last centers to the students, still allowing them time to practice and receive feedback from the teacher.  The expectation is that students know the procedures for transitioning from center to center independently and have built stamina to work independently for sustained amounts of time.  The teacher can now complete the one-on-one assessments and begin pulling small, flexible groups.


By week 4, we should have all the routines and procedures in place for centers and be able to pull small, flexible groups on a regular basis.


What if our only rule was:




Wong, Harry K., & Rosemary T. Wong,  The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher (4th edition) Mountain View, California: Harry K. Wong Publications, 2009.


First 21 Days created by Children’s Learning Institute at the University of Texas at Houston & University of Texas System/Texas Education Agency.

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