School leaders, sort out your routines

Creating the right routines in school can make an enormous difference to learning, so leaders need to put time into them, says Amy Forrester

Amy Forrester

whole school routines

In their seminal paper, Marzano and Marzano argue, through an empirical review of research, that establishing clear rules and procedures in the classroom are vital in creating a culture of excellent behaviour.  

The notion makes sense. 

If you lead your classroom by making up your routines and expectations as you go along, you’re destined for chaos. In order to create a positive learning culture, routines are vital.

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From entry routines, to group task routines and clearing up after a creative lesson, every child needs to know their role and what is expected of them. 

The most successful routines I’ve seen in classrooms are, without fail, focused on the most efficient way of keeping order and increasing learning time. 

So should we be designing whole school routines in the same way that we approach classroom routines?

From silent corridors, to personalised handshakes, there are a myriad of routines in place across the country. But is it the routine itself that matters, or just that there is one?

Your whole-school routines will undoubtedly play a crucial role in any school culture. 

If chaos in the lunch hall is a normal part of the school day, what impact does that have on behaviour elsewhere in the school? The eventual casualty is learning.


Young people are at school to get the best education possible and the best routines will prioritise this. Punctuality to lessons is vital, for example, because every minute matters in the pursuit of learning. 

Having two bells, a warning and a final bell, can help to prompt students’ timekeeping and encourage punctuality to lessons. A school where students nonchalantly stroll into lessons 10 minutes late is not desirable to anyone. 

There are other points in this school day, such as silent lunch line-ups, where schools can clearly teach an explicit routine to contribute to a culture of the school.

Having explicit routines around conduct in corridors can further contribute to a culture. Clear rules – such as no physical contact with others – make expectations obvious.

Creating these micro-routines lets students know what is appropriate and empowers them to make better choices, all of which contribute positively to the culture of a school.

Routine soon becomes habit, which soon creates a calm, orderly and focused response from students. It sends a clear signal to students about behaviour in the school, which translates into behaviour in the classroom. Each routine must be in sync with the wider vision of excellence.


School leaders must take the time and care to design their routines with the level of attention that classroom teachers pay to theirs. Thought must go into all of the whole-school routines that students find themselves in each day.

In reality, most schools won’t find the time to do this regularly. At the very least, schools should be reviewing, annually, all of their opportunities for routines within school life, and explore whether they are effectively contributing to the school culture. 

Here are some key questions for school leadership teams to discuss:

  • What is the behavioural norm in our school at each point in the school day?

  • What is our existing routine?

  • Could we introduce a new routine which clarifies what behavioural expectations are at each point in the school day?

  • How can each of our routines impact positively on behaviour?

  • Are there any behavioural concerns in classrooms that could be improved by the creation of shared routines?

Of course, there will be barriers here, such as the layout of the physical building. Contextualised decisions, reflecting the school’s reality, are important here. 

Just because one school has silent corridors, it doesn’t mean that your split level, split site, tiny corridor school can do the same. The environment has to be given due consideration.

But it also shouldn’t be an excuse to have low expectations. If the issue is with the routine and the response is “that wouldn’t work with our kids”, it’s the bigotry of low expectations that’s your problem, not your routines. 

If teachers are going at it solo, and the only thing students find a clear routine for is tidying glue sticks away, then the whole school culture is destined to fail. And the only victims in that are children, their wellbeing and their learning.

Amy Forrester is an English teacher and director of pastoral care (key stage 4) at Cockermouth School in Cumbria

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