How to Use Routines to WIN at Teaching

Tides ebb and flow, the moon goes through its phases, seasons change and good teachers develop a rhythm to their professional life.


You’ve seen the teachers who rock their rhythm. They are the ones who always know what’s coming around the bend, and they point it out, “But you know, in just two weeks after that date, we have to set up for Public Schools Week.”

*That moment when everyone just looks in wonder---how did he know that?*


He knew that because he’s in tune with the school, his teaching and the events surrounding those two. He got there through experience and HARD WORK. It didn’t just happen:


 Teachers use routines to develop a sustainable rhythm. Pin This!

Teachers use routines to develop a sustainable rhythm.
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  • put everything on one calendar,
  • kept his calendar updated,
  • reviewed his calendar daily,
  • watched for patterns on the calendar, and
  • checked it before scheduling something


He has also done the same for his own teaching---

  • mapped his curriculum or keeps the map he was given front and center while planning,
  • developed systems for writing lesson plans, prepping and turning them in on time,
  • developed routines for beginning and ending the day effectively,
  • designed or adopted a filing and paper management system and sticks to it,
  • knows what days he does what to prepare for next week,
  • gets ahead in his planning, and
  • plans for those days he must spend some extra time with a student or parent.

This teacher has TEACHING ROUTINES.

If you have a plan in place and know it well, you can adapt when things go wrong.
— Janice Longoria


He follows his plan to a tee, and before you know it, it has its own rhythm of comfort. Now when something comes up unexpectedly, he knows exactly what he must make up, where to pick up and how to get going again.

He also knows he better get it made up quickly or the whole system may unravel and take some doing to put straight again!

That unraveling and straightening is what many of us experience in our first few years of teaching because we have not built routines for ourselves.



The most important thing about establishing your own rhythm is to chunk your routines. For example, if you have to plan math and reading:

Lesson planning:

 Teachers plan and chunk their routines.  Pin this!

Teachers plan and chunk their routines.

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  • Math on Monday afternoon
  • Reading on Tuesday afternoon


Lesson Materials Prep:

  • Math on Wednesday Conference period
  • Reading on Friday Conference Period



  • Daily--when assignments completed


Then you need to make a routine for planning lessons, prepping materials and grading. Having those routines helps you project the time it will take for you to get it done on average.

You will use those routines faithfully on the days you planned above. AND, if for some reason you can't do it on that exact day, you know to make it up right away.


Lesson planning:

  • Review and unpack standards
  • Select vocabulary
  • Select assessments
  • Look for misconceptions that you will need to correct for students
  • Choose learning activities based on excellent, high-yield strategies
  • Write each day's plan
  • Finish one subject’s plans before starting another’s


Lesson Materials Prep:

  • Pull materials
  • Make copies
  • Laminate, color, cut out, put into sets, etc., if needed
  • Place each day in a separate tray, in order of use



  • Only grade the mandatory number of assignments to be graded
  • Grade the day the assignment is collected
  • Enter grades immediately
  • Paper clip the papers together
  • Place in the return to students tray
  • Return the next day
If you want your students to go further, establish a routine to THEIR day or THEIR class period. Keep it student-driven and packed with depth. ‘Oh the places [they’ll] go!’
— Janice Longoria with a quotation from Dr. Seuss

 True Story: 

There’s a story (see Great by Choice by Collins and Hansen) about how Roald Amundsen, who wanted to be the first to make it to the South Pole, beat his competition. First he was a master of over preparation. Then he established routines and adhered faithfully to them. Every day, hard or easy, he and his team trekked about 15-20 miles unless travel was impossible.

If it was an easy day, they made it a little early and were able to rest. If it was a hard day, it took longer, they might not have gone as far, and they were tired. Either way, they got up to hike the very next day.

On the other hand, a rival prepared minimally and had his team hike longer on good weather days and often not at all on bad weather days. That team failed the mission and lost their lives in the process.

The lesson is that it is preparation and steady rhythm that carries the day.

How far will your current practices take you? How far would you go if you established a steady rhythm to your teaching?