For a smooth-running class, procedures are more important than rules.

Stated another way, teaching students how to behave well is more important than having consequences for when they misbehave.

On the second day of Oakland Unified New-Teacher Induction Institute, we spent the morning listening to a classroom management guru named Rick Smith.  I’m typically not a fan of edu-gurus in general and definitely not a fan of one-size-fits-all professional development.  That said, I loved Mr. Smith’s talk.

After fifteen years in the classroom, I found in Mr. Smith’s talk, some suggestions that I have implemented into my class this year.  Specifically, in addition to playing games and having conversations designed to build relationships, I’ve spent the first week of school training my sophomores on how I want them to ask for a hall pass, and how I want them to pack up and be ready for dismissal.

Hall Passes

“Mr. Orphal!  I need to go to the bathroom!”  How many times have I been interrupted by these words?  Most of the time, the answer is, “No,” not so much because I don’t allow my students to use the restroom, but more because I’m annoyed at the interruption. Worse still, I have often called on a student with her hand raised, “You have a question?” I asked, hoping for some keen insight on today’s lesson.  “Can I go to the bathroom?” was the response.  The underlining message I hear is this: “No, I don’t have anything to add to your boring lecture.  In fact, I would like to leave now.”


This year, at the suggestion of Mr. Smith, we use a silent hand signal…

The crossed fingers, I tell my students, is American Sign Language (ASL) for the letter, “r.” Additionally, it looks like someone with their legs crossed, in desperate need of relief.

When I see that signal, I give one of two responses, each borrowed from ASL.  For “Yes,” I make a fist, knuckles pointing down toward the floor and shake it twice.  For “Not yet,” I touch my index and middle finger with my thumb, almost as if I am mimicking the opening and closing of a bird’s beak.

When my students see me sign, “yes,” they know to get their hall pass ready for my signature.  If they see me sign “not yet,” they know that I will sign their pass in a few minutes, but that I really want them to pay attention to what I am saying right now, so that I don’t have to repeat myself when they reenter the classroom.

This year, my students have only three hall passes for the fall semester.  They’ll get three more in February to use for the balance of the year.

Each of the three hall passes is theirs to use.  However, each is also worth five extra-credit points at the end of the semester.  Students who take care of their needs during passing period and never use a hall pass can look forward to fifteen extra credit points at the end of the semester.  Those points could make the difference between and 89% and 90% on their final grade.


In years past, I had no system for the end of the period.  Sometimes, my lecture or my students’ work would keep us busy until the bell.  Other times, students would begin to pack and congregate at the door, all hoping to be the first one out when the bell rang.

“The bell does not dismiss you, I do.” I told my students on the first day.  I also described what I wanted to see from them before I would allow them to leave…

 Each table needs to be clean.  Everyone needs to be packed up.  My students need to be seated at their desks with their hands on the desk.  Once everyone is ready to go, I dismiss the class.

There was a little bit of grousing, but everyone agreed and complied.  We even passed the ultimate test.  One day the bell rang while I was still talking.  Instead of jumping up and rushing to the door, my kids quickly packed and got ready.  I was thrilled!


During the first week of school, we practiced our procedures daily. All together, the class would ask for a hall pass.  The whole class shouted out when I signed my reply: “Yes,” “Not yet.”  In the middle of class, we packed up all of our materials and got ready for dismissal.  When we were perfect, they got their materials back out and continued with the lesson.

I’ve still got rules for my class. We spent time during the first week discussing them.  This week, we’re talking about the difference between rules/consequences and a theory of behavior management called Restorative Justice.  In the final part of this series of New-Teacher posts, I write about how those discussions are going.

In the mean time…  How do you manage rules and procedures in your class?




Share this post: