Setting up morning and afternoon routines (for the teacher) in upper elementary classrooms - 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade

How Teachers Can Create Morning and Afternoon Routines For Less Stress

Setting up morning and afternoon routines (for the teacher) in upper elementary classrooms - 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade

We help our students establish morning routines and dismissal routines - why do we not do the same for ourselves?

Having a morning routine will help you feel more prepared and less stressed as you begin your day.

Having an afternoon routine that you go through before you leave school can be especially helpful for teachers who feel like there is always more to do.  If you follow the same routine every day before leaving, then eventually this will be a signal to your brain that the work day is over, which allows you to shut your brain off and take time to enjoy your family more easily.

However, morning and afternoon routines don't just happen overnight.  You have to be intentional about what you want to be included in your routine, and then try to create new habits.

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How to Create Habits That Stick

The hardest part of creating your ideal morning/afternoon/evening routine is making it a habit and actually sticking to it.  James Clear's book Atomic Habits has been the most helpful book for me in creating productive habits in my life. It has very practical, realistic tips about forming and breaking new habits.  His explanation of the "2 minute rule" and "habit stacking" really helped me establish the routines I wanted.

"Habit Stacking" - Habit stacking is identifying something you already do everyday habitually, and then being intentional about creating a new habit by linking it to that original habit.

For example, every morning when I first walked into my 3rd grade classroom, I would open a Dr. Pepper.  🙈 Although this wasn't the best habit, it was something I did every day.  So, I stacked a new habit on top of that - after opening a Dr. Pepper, I would sit down and mentally walk through my day, making notes about things that still needed to be prepped.  

When you do one thing immediately followed by something else enough, your brain begins to link these things together, so it becomes much easier to create habits.

Habit stacking is perfect for creating routines.  Start with something you already do, and then think about what daily habit you would like in your ideal routine.  Add 1 new habit.  Then, once you have that habit down, add a new habit.  Repeat until you have the morning routine you want.

You can read an excerpt about habit stacking from James Clear's book here.

The "2 Minute Rule" - In his book, James talks about how most of us fail to create the habits we start off with a time consuming and difficult habit.  Instead, he recommends condensing the habit you want to create down to something that will only take you 2 minutes to complete.  This makes it much easier to start and stick to a new habit.  Once you get into a routine, you can extend your new habit past the initial 2 minutes.

The hardest part of creating a new habit is actually showing up for it.  James Clear says it best:

"The point is to master the habit of showing up. The truth is, a habit must be established before it can be improved. If you can’t learn the basic skill of showing up, then you have little hope of mastering the finer details. Instead of trying to engineer a perfect habit from the start, do the easy thing on a more consistent basis. You have to standardize before you can optimize."

I used this to 2 Minute Rule to help me create a habit of working out regularly in the mornings.  Instead of going for a 2 mile run or completing a 30 minute kickboxing video every morning, I told myself that I would stretch for 2 minutes.  My mind didn't resist the idea of a 2 minute stretch like it resisted a 2 mile run.

So, every day when I got up in the morning, I would stretch for 2 minutes.  Some days that was all I did.  Other days, the stretching energized me and I added a workout or yoga to the stretching.  Eventually, this 2 minute rule turned into the habit of working out 5 days a week.  On the days I don't work out, I still do a quick stretch, so that I don't lose that habit.  Now, it feels weird to me to NOT work out in the mornings.

This 2 minute rule can easily be applied to the classroom as well.  Perhaps you want to create a habit of grading papers daily.  Start with the two minute rule, and grade papers for 2 minutes every school day at a particular time of day or as part of your morning or afternoon routine.  You can almost always make time to do something for 2 minutes, and chances are you will continue for longer than that once you actually get started.

In his book, James Clear has a lot more tips about how to make this 2 minute rule work for you, but you can read a short excerpt here.

Creating Morning and Afternoon Routines in Your Classroom

There's no one-size-fits-all routine that will work for every teacher.  As you are thinking about creating routines, think about the things that you need to do every day - maybe things that are constantly stressing you out or things you often forget to do.  Think about things like prepping materials, writing objectives, finishing up lesson plans, grading papers, making positive parent contacts, checking emails, cleaning off your desk, passing out papers, etc.

As you think about what you would like your morning and afternoon routine to look like, write it out.  Then, start small with one new habit in the morning when you enter the classroom and one in the afternoon before you leave.  Then, habit stack with a new habit, changing and adapting the routine as you go.  Eventually you will have created a morning and afternoon routine that you love.

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