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A successful start: Systems, routines, AND content

by Diana De los Santos


As a middle school teacher, systems and routines were always top of mind at the start of the school year—mostly because I firmly believe that there may be nothing worse than a seventh grader at a desk without clear expectations.

However, I found that I sometimes responded to outside pressure to have my classroom running smoothly by focusing excessively on these systems and routines, making the class feel nit-picky and boring.

The best school years that I had as a teacher all began the same way—focusing on teaching content (for me, that was math) while ensuring that the systems and routines complemented the learning.

That sometimes meant we didn't learn how to set up our binders for a few days—and that was okay, because we didn't have anything to store until then! Instead, we began with important grade-level tasks (often pulled from Illustrative Math) that allowed me to get a feel for my students' skills while, simultaneously, fostering a growth mindset with intentional messaging (pulled from leaders like Jo Boaler and Carol Dweck).

So, as you jump into your school year, don't leave out the content! Be sure to expose your students to just how engaging and interesting your subject can be and help their minds grow immediately; once you show them that, the routines are much more meaningful.

Connect standards to instruction with these open education resources from our Lessons from the Field!

Diana De los Santos is ANet's director of system advising and a former coach.

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