Daily Routines and Positive Learning Environments

Productive social norms are an essential part of a quality learning environment.  Or, put another way, cliques and intolerance can impede learning.

At our December 12, board meeting we heard a report on programs being implemented to foster positive behavior and positive learning environments in schools.

My children are influenced in a good way by these programs.  The positive behavior program at Central Elementary is call Fire Hawk Five.  The program goes by other names at other schools.  My daughter has learned to use the Peace Place to work out disputes.

These are good programs.  But, daily routines may be more important.

I took part in a youth summit that brought together more than 100 St. Vrain high school students.  We assigned students to tables at random to make sure they would congregate with friends.  The students said that they were talking with people from different "groups" – I can’t remember all the labels they used – often for the first time.  The students were surprised and pleased to learn how much they had in common with their peers from other "groups."

During the conversation, we asked the high schoolers for ideas on how to promote a positive environment in their schools.  They did not mention programs such as those we heard about at our last board meeting.  Instead, they focused on daily routines.  The students’ ideas to build tolerance included: Assign our locker partners don’t let us choose our own and make us sit by different people at lunch.  The students said this would force us to talk to, get to know and perhaps even become friends with people outside their own cliques – similar to what was happening at the youth summit.

The students added that they would complain if such ideas were implemented.  But, these types of practices would force them to interact with peers outside of cliques and, perhaps, build more tolerance in schools.

I’ve noticed how cliques begin to form even at the elementary grades when daily routines are changed.  For a variety of sound reasons, Central Elementary has students go to recess immediately before lunch.  In the past it was reverse, lunch immediately before recess.  Other schools have adopted this practice, too.

When I went to lunch with my kids in the past, I noticed the teachers had a lot of influence over how the kids lined up because they were coming to the cafeteria directly from the classroom.  My children seldom were in line next to the friends they played with at recess.  But, they laughed and talked with their classmates just the same.

Now, I notice that when my children come to the cafeteria from the playground they are in line with their playground buddies.  It tends to be a similar group of kids each time.  Girls and boys are separated as they enter the lunch room.  The unintended consequence is that the kids are sitting in what amount to cliques.  There is less interaction with peers with whom they are less familiar and comfortable.

I urge principals, teachers and staff to consider how small daily routines can affect civility in the school house.

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