Recently I was at an elementary school just as recess was ending. When the bell rang some kids slowly walked towards their lining up area, other kids ran directly into their classrooms, and other kids just kept playing - ignoring the bell altogether. The kids in line waited and waited for their teachers to show up, but soon they started pushing, shoving, sitting down on the ground, and some even went back out to the playground to play. The supervision staff tried to get them back in lines, but it was all in vain until the teachers approached. Later in the day I had a chance to observe students going to the cafeteria for lunch. Half of one 4th grade class was sort of milling around outside the room while the other half was inside getting ready to leave. Other groups of kids were walking past in big clumps, without their teacher, yelling and laughing. Then, one teacher just opened her door and the class bolted through the shrubbery towards the eating area, mowing down little kids.
This school seemed to be full of peer conflict, rude behavior toward adults, and just a lot of chaos. The solution to these problems is a lot easier than you’d think!
Now, using lines in schools is not a new idea, but it is a controversial one for some educators. The controversy is this: our modern education system was designed about 200 years ago as we moved from an agrarian based economy to an industrialized one.
Industrialists created public schooling to teach future factory workers to arrive on time, to stand in line, to respond to bells and whistles, to sit at a table to work and assemble things, and basically do what they were told.
While, I do think it is a worthwhile discussion to have - “Given that our education system was designed to suit factory work, does this model still make sense?”
In my mind, things like lining up are still a good idea and are actually really good for kids and for schools. And here’s why:
1. Lines Calm the Chaos and help keep Transitions Smooth-
I've said it before, "Transitions are not your friend.” Transitions are where chaos and disorder live and thrive. Any time kids move from Point A to Point B there are opportunities for problems. Particularly in younger grades during transitions it is really hard to adequately supervise unless kids are in an orderly line. The lack of direct supervision and structure can cause inappropriate behaviors to rear their ugly heads. Think about it - anytime you hear about bullying at school it’s almost always during these unstructured times when adults are not supervising.
Just last weekend I was talking to my younger sister, now an adult. She was telling me how she was always super anxious at school, particularly in her elementary years.
She said, "At least when there was a line I knew where to go. I understood we were going to the library, or to recess. It made me feel more secure knowing I was in the right place."
Her comment made me reflect on how many kids feel like she did? School is an overwhelming place with lots of settings, rules, and expectations. Its really hard to keep them all straight. When chaos is reduced by routines and procedures, then kids feel safe and comfortable at school, they connect, bond, and learn.
2. Lines help with School Security
When you observe a school and students are passing through hallways in orderly lines, it is easier to see who belongs there and who does not. You can see from a distance that the children out of class belong to a group and are not just roaming unsupervised. The chances of a child wandering off diminishes. When students are in line you are also more likely to notice a stranger on campus because people who belong are part of the group, walking single file, not wandering around.
Consider ALL your Transitions - In an orderly school, kids should transition around the school in a single line, with their teacher, every time they move from Point A to Point B. . When they go from class to lunch, lunch back to class, to the playground, classroom to the bus, - they should walk in a line.
As you prepare your school for clear routines and procedures around lining up, here are some Do’s and Don’ts to consider:
DO Lead Lines with an Adult - When you transition students to a new location, like to recess, teachers should walk students all the way there until they are sure another adult is present to supervise. It is possible, later in the year for older classes to earn the privilege of walking independently without their teacher while the teacher watches them from the doorway - if they are quiet and respectful they can keep this privilege. If not, it can be revoked..
DON’T Let Students Walk Without a Teacher and simply excuse them directly from your classroom to recess. When this is allowed, essentially what you are saying is that the playground starts right outside your door. Instead, the message should be that the hallway is the hallway with its own expectations and the playground is the playground with its own expectations.
DO Consider Creating a Central Lining Up Location. This central gathering place is helpful for everything from before school, to after recess, to conduct assemblies, and for emergencies. This location might be your blacktop, a grass area, or even auditorium. This gathering place creates a sense of school community where we see each other and know who is there and who is not.
DON’T Try to Teach a New Routine for Every Event. Having a central location for most events keeps you from having to teach too many routines. It's better for kids like my sister who already find school overwhelming - just keep it simple. It organizes the chaos.
DO Arrive On Time to Pick up Students in Line. Yes, this means rinsing out your coffee cup before the bell rings and making your way to the playground on time.
DON'T Make Kids Wait More than 1 to 2 Minutes in Line. It may sound extreme, but hear me out. Just stand at a typical elementary school after recess and watch: after about 1 minute of waiting in line, kids start to joke around, touch each other, jostle, bump out of line, even sit down on the blacktop, even if the yard supervisors are present. By the time the teacher arrives the class is a mess. “He touched me!” “She cutted in line!”
The problem is not the lining up procedure, it is just that the kids are being asked to do something they are not able to do.
While lines create order in a school, making kids wait too long, creates the opposite effect. Set an expectation that all teachers will arrive to pick up their students within 1 - 2 minutes of the bell ringing.
DO a Quick Check In with the Class - Here is a tip, wen the teacher arrives, Walk along the line and greet the students and ask how recess went. The teacher will pick up on any issues that came up at recess and can solve them immediately. The goal here is to orient the students from playtime to learning time.
DON’T Line up by Gender - When I was a kid, teachers had students line up by boys and girls. Given our cultural push back on rigid gender roles and our desire to make all kids feel comfortable, this is a non-starter. If you must have 2 lines (due to space or another reason), allow kids to choose their line, assign them alphabetically, or by table group or some other more objective way.
While it may seem antiquated to some, lines in school create a sense of order and safety. When we create predictable, secure environments, students and teachers can get back to the business of learning.
Feel free to watch my video on Why Walking in Line is Good for Kids (and Schools) and share with your colleagues and friends - the more we share these practices the more our schools will be safer and more positive places for kids!