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Routines and rituals

One of the most effective ways of creating a sense of safety is by creating predictable environments and responses.
Teaching Refugees


Creating predictable, stable classrooms supports stress reduction and the promotion of mental health. Knowing what to expect - from the program and from teacher - can help lower students' anxiety and help them focus on learning content. Reviewing program policies regarding absenteeism and tardiness, and ensuring that students understand those policies, can prevent confusion and problems down the road. In some cases it’s most appropriate to convey this information in the students’ native languages if at all possible.

A student-to-student approach is a positive way to share policy information. sharing policy information. Toward the end of one class, students can develop an orientation booklet for incoming students where program policies are explained by students, for students. This project can offer an opportunity to share strategies for facing some of the barriers to attendance, getting to class on time, and other barriers that cause stress and interfere with persistence.

Much has been happening in my class this semester. Stretching, breathing, and Brain Gym are part of our routine at the start of every class meeting. At this point, a different student leads the activities each time. I am certain that the strong sense of community that exists in our class stems in part from this. Not just the activities themselves, but the acknowledgement of stress in our lives and the mutual responsibility we take for helping to relieve it a little.

       - Lisa Gimbel, The Welcome Project, Somerville, MA

Following predictable routines does not have to counteract creativity and novelty in teaching content; rather, it can enhance students’ willingness to engage in something innovative because the classroom framework is safe and supportive.

Many teachers have a mental template for their classroom routines but find it difficult to manage because of all the unexpected things that come up in adult basic education classes.

The focus in our project was to stay mindful of the need for routines even in the face of common roadblocks such as classes running overtime, emergency situations, technical problems, tardiness, attendance problems and other things that interfere with a smoothly running class.

Creating classroom guidelines with students and keeping them actively in use can support classroom predictability in a proactive manner.

Read about how Lisa Gimbel established guidelines with her students, and how she reflects on the process: Setting Ground Rules in Class.

The beginning of each class serves an important purpose. It helps students transition from other tasks and sets a tone and atmosphere for learning. Teachers in the Managing Stress project experimented with adding daily rituals to class. Rituals serve a symbolic function, one that is often missing from our day to day lives. Some teachers used “letting go” rituals, others explored deep breathing, guided meditation, and simple movements as a way to start or end class.  To read more about the various rituals used in the project, check out the highlighted links below.

For additional ritual ideas, see: