Reframing The Loud Lineups

In education, there are certain topics that come up for discussion again and again. I don’t necessarily mean topics related to academics — such as the best approaches for teaching reading or what to include in a comprehensive math program — but topics connected to a child’s day-to-day behaviour. This is my 17th year teaching in my seventh elementary school, and here’s one topic of conversation that has come up in all of these years: lining up. As I’ve blogged about before, I’m a huge believer in the benefits of “free entry,” and enforcing quiet lineups often cause me stress. It seems like one of those arguments that take a lot for teachers to win. But it was not until an experience from yesterday that I had my epiphany on lining up. 

Yesterday, we had 13 Grade 6 students join us for our time out in the forest. We have a small forest that lines our school property, and we always meet at the fence in our Kindergarten play area first, do attendance, and then head outside to the forest. This is exactly what we did yesterday, but with the addition of some older (and taller) students in our line. I found myself really examining the lineups yesterday. 

When we start at the fence, we initially give very few instructions. We get all of the students to run from this fenced area to the fence on the outskirts of the forest. One of us keeps up with the middle of this line of runners, and one of us stays at the back, so we can still see everyone as they head to this second fence. Even so, we take attendance again at this second fence, and that’s when we also review the boundaries before the children go off to play. Yesterday, I realized how much I love that we do this review and have our conversations at this second fence.

  • We usually go out to the forest without the other Kindergarten classes. This means that there are fewer students and less extraneous noise. The quiet in the background, also tends to quiet our children, and makes it easier to have conversations with them.
  • The run out to the forest is also calming for many children. We don’t have children walk out and follow us in a quiet line. Some children do walk out with us, but we tend to encourage a faster run to help burn off some energy and to help create the calm environment which is so wonderful to have out in the forest.

We are then out in the forest space for over an hour — usually closer to 1 1/2 hours. Students move past the big runs and the loud tag games to more focused, richer, and deeper learning opportunities. 

It’s after all of this exploration and talking time that we blow the whistle and have everyone meet us at the fence. Even before we do attendance again, you can see and hear the difference in the children. It’s so much calmer. They are actually able to quiet down. 

We then do one more run back to the Kindergarten play area before lining up to head inside. This is when the amazing happens. We do actually get a quiet line, and even quiet in our back cubby room as the children get undressed and ready for our meeting time in the classroom. (Please note that the noise that you hear is actually coming from the children working next door, and not us.)

What makes this possible? I think it’s self-regulation. All of the time out in the forest, moving around, talking, playing, and thinking together, help the children calm down. I keep on thinking about Stuart Shanker‘s saying that, “Self-regulation makes self-control possible.” Quiet lineups are all about self-control, but can children demonstrate this control when they’re not calm?

And maybe this is the crux of the issue when it comes to lining up at school. For when do we get children to lineup? It’s often after quick transition times, such as after a 20 minute recess or after the first few minutes of arriving at school in the morning. I wonder if it’s reasonable to expect a quiet lineup for EVERY child, when dysregulation could be the reason that these lineups are so hard to accomplish. If a quiet line isn’t always possible, how can we still show respect and be safe when entering or exiting a school? Watching what happened yesterday made me realize just how much time some students need to get to “calm.” Maybe loud lineups are not the result of misbehaviour, but stress behaviour, and could this difference be a significant one?


4 thoughts on “Reframing The Loud Lineups

  1. What a thought provoking post! Thank you. As a Grade 6 teacher, I can appreciate this immensely. We have a new outdoor garden, which my class has explored, but we will do it again, with these mini-stops, along the way.

    I have always been a fan of gradual entry. Last year, some of my older students would wander in (since we open the gym up for the older students in the AM before school, this leads to less entry stress), many of my students would wander in, and start doing work of their choice. Before I knew it, everyone was pretty much settled before the bell, and I could just launch teaching.

    I think the key question you ask is how can we create a safe entry and transition time for all, so that everyone is successful, as you so intelligently point out.

    • Thanks for your comment, Heidi! I love how your school opens up the gym for older students in the morning. What a great way to reduce the entry stress. The gradual entry into your classroom, and likely the connection that you make with students during this time, allows for a calm start to the day and children ready to learn before the bell even rings.

      Creating a safe entry and transition time for all students is so important, and likely means different approaches for different students. I wonder if it’s really a case of many educators working together that provides the different conditions students need to be successful.


  2. Aviva it’s like you read my mind sometimes. I struggle with a quiet line up all the time. Last year, I really started to think about my expectations and if they were reasonable. Where in our world do we have a silent line up? I have had my best conversations with people in line ups! It’s hard to stand still and be quiet for a long period of time. So how can I expect that of a 4 and 5 year old. I think my focus will be on voice level in a line. As long as I can get them to look forward when we need to move and they are quiet in the hallways. Thanks for the post! You always make me think!

    • Thanks Kendra! When and how we push the quiet lineup varies by the time of the day and where we’re going. We do strive for quiet coming into the classroom because our room attaches to another Kindergarten room, and those children are already working when we come in from outside. We teach our kids that this is about respect. But our students have had enough time outside to truly self-regulate, so they can bring the noise level down and come in quietly. Thankfully we don’t move in the hallway much as a full class, but when we do, it’s less about the straight line as “watching where we’re going” and “staying quiet to not interrupt the learning of others.” I think there’s always value in considering why we’re doing what we’re doing. Quiet lineups aren’t necessarily bad things, but are they always necessary, and are kids always able to be quiet? The quick transitions are recess time make me wonder.


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