Opening Traditions: Promoting Positive Classroom Culture

By on May 5, 2015

Establishing routines for our students is critical to their success. When students have established learning routines, they can be more self-directed, efficient with their time, and focus on what I want them to learn without the distractions of changing expectations and procedures. In my experience, the first five minutes is the most important time to establish learning routines. There are so many things going on that keep us from starting class. For this reason, I decided to spend my energy perfecting an opening tradition that would focus my students, signal that class has started, and give them a positive experience right at the start of my class.

I started teaching at El Cajon Valley High School in 2003. I had two mentor teachers that year: Rick Millican and Wayne Weightman. Both of these teachers bring passion to their curriculum every day and create dynamic learning environments for their students. One technique they use to create productive learning environments is an opening tradition. I was amazed by the positive classroom culture that these two teachers created with some simple routines that they had established at the beginning of the year. During my first year, I was also introduced to Mark Reardon who is now the Chief Learning Officer at Quantum Learning. Mark was a full time consultant on our campus. He brought a message to our staff that learning should be fun and taught all the new teachers how engage “all minds” in everything we do.

It didn’t take long. I was hooked. I wanted an opening tradition for my students because I saw how powerful it was. For the past 12 years, I have used an opening tradition to start all of my classes (and I have taught a wide range of students including EL, AP, honors, 7th-12th grade English, and AVID).

What is an “Opening Tradition”?

An opening tradition is a chant that students say at the beginning of class. There are two parts: the teacher and the students. The teacher usually begins the tradition so that students know when to say their part. The chant is typically 5-10 seconds long. It is a positive message that they say every day. This video shows my students participating in a few opening traditions we have done this year. I captured this video yesterday so that you can see what an opening tradition looks like in a classroom.

I like to change the tradition every 3-4 weeks. I want students to learn the message behind what they are saying, and I want to keep the message fresh so students stay engaged. Here is a list of opening traditions that I have used over the years. Please use them or adapt them for your purposes.

An opening tradition allows me to build a strong classroom culture. It’s fun. Students enjoy it. It’s quick. And it allows me to communicate positive messages to my students. I want them to believe in themselves and take pride in their school.

How to hook your students

  • Explain the purpose behind the opening tradition. Talk about the power of positive thinking.
  • Explain what the message means and how it relates to them.
  • Expect that all students participate. Rehearsal and “do overs” are sometimes necessary.
  • Make it fun. Make it relevant. Make it quick.
  • Provide visual support so that students do not have to memorize the chant.
  • Ask students to contribute ideas to new chants.

Students will love this routine. They get hooked and often ask my substitute teachers to run the opening tradition when I am gone. Think about how you might use this in your classroom with your students.

What happens after the tradition is over and the students sit down?

To be honest, sometimes my students are so excited after the chant that it takes me a few seconds to quiet them down, but it is worth it! Once they sit down, we take roll. I have my students call out their names as I listen. I mark students absent if their name is not called. Immediately after roll, students write their homework assignment in their planners/calendars. In the first three minutes of class, all of my students have spoken twice, said something positive, checked in, taken roll, and written down their homework for the night. It’s a beautiful thing!

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