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Starting the Year Off Right: Promoting Routines to Build Student Engagement and Community

By: Lower School Director Rachel Dixon

September 7, 2021

Just before the school year began, our faculty had the opportunity to engage in Responsive Classroom training. Responsive Classroom is an approach designed to support social/emotional learning, promote joyful classroom communities, empower students, celebrate students as individuals, model and choose language that promotes student understanding and build strong routines that facilitate the learning process. Certainly, none of these ideas are new to our Rossman educators, and through this professional development, we enjoyed collaborating and sharing ideas to promote these practices in our classrooms and create a common language across our school.

One central tenet of Responsive Classroom is the critical window of the first six weeks of school to establish routines and procedures. The groundwork laid during this time sets the tone for the remainder of the year. Great intentionality and planning are dedicated to the manner in which teachers introduce even the simplest of routines such as how to walk in a line down the hallway or how to follow the morning routine upon entering the classroom. Interactive modeling and practice are essential elements of this process as routines are reinforced and grow in familiarity. Below are some of the benefits of the planning, time and focus dedicated to establishing routines.

  • It becomes rote. When routines are second nature, time and attention can be focused on the “meat” of school, the engaging instruction central to the Rossman experience. 

  • It creates a safe environment. When students have clarity around expectations of behavior, they know the ins and outs of a “typical” day but are also able to respond with appropriate attention and trust when the unexpected happens (i.e. a fire alarm). Children thrive when emotional security is established through the presence of clear boundaries and expectations.

  • It promotes classroom community. Ambiguity can lead to stress and conflict. When all students are engaged in a shared set of expectations, our Rossman values of kindness, honesty, respect, and responsibility flourish. Routine-setting extends beyond the basic procedures into conversations of how to treat others and how to problem solve when conflicts do arise. Having concrete strategies that have been practiced through explicit modeling allows students to confidently, respectfully, and independently tackle challenges when they arise in a way that maintains a kind and caring classroom environment.

This simple, yet powerful, practice works beyond school walls as well. When working with children at home to build or adapt routines, remember the importance of repetition, modeling, practice and buy-in. The investment on the front end pays dividends in the long run!


Rossman School, nestled on a 20-acre campus in St. Louis, is a private preparatory school for students in Junior Kindergarten (four years old) through Grade 6. The school’s mission is to provide a strong, well-balanced education in a nurturing school community committed to excellence. Dedicated to developing personal, nurturing relationships with each child, Rossman’s experienced educators provide a solid foundation in academics, athletics and arts while emphasizing strong character development and leadership skills.​ Request a free Rossman School brochure here.

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