A few years ago, at dismissal time at Four Corners Elementary School in Greenfield, Massachusetts, 229 students in grades K through 5 would leave their classrooms simultaneously and head for the school's front door, where a bottleneck formed each day. School staff, recognizing that this situation often left children feeling anxious and frustrated as they left school, decided to re-examine the school's dismissal routine and see what they could do to make it a smoother experience. Working together, they found a simple way for all students to move out the front door in an efficient and orderly fashion, ending the school day on a more positive note for everyone.
Defining the Problem
Collaborative visioning and problem-solving were keys to the initiative's success. First, the school's adults talked about how they wanted dismissal time to be and agreed that improving traffic flow was their main goal. Then they identified things standing in the way of that goal:
- A dismissal procedure that released all students at exactly the same time
- Only one exit door
- Groups of students converging at the spot where the school's two main hallways met
Creating New Dismissal Procedures
With a common understanding of the problem and a shared goal, the staff devised a new dismissal procedure. Here are the main elements of the plan they devised:
- Instead of dismissing all students simultaneously at 3:00 p.m., class dismissal times would be staggered between 2:50 and 3:00.
- To further reduce the bottleneck at the main exit, teachers would walk their classes out to the exit. Only one class would leave at a time.
- Teachers would stop with their classes where the two main hallways converged, and classes would alternate going out.
- Teachers would say a quick, personal good-bye to each student—a natural extension of the way they used greetings at arrival time and in classroom Morning Meetings. Four Corners chose a gentle "high five" because it was interactive, creating a moment of connection between the teacher and each student.
As they would when teaching any new routine, Four Corners teachers taught the new dismissal routine by showing students what each part of the journey was supposed to look, sound, and feel like. Then students practiced, while the adults watched and named specifically what children were doing well, such as "I noticed that all of your hands stayed at your sides when you walked down the hallway today." Because the expectations for moving through the hallways were the same schoolwide, any adult could offer such reinforcement or provide reminders when students needed them.
Enjoying an Orderly, Peaceful Dismissal
Four Corners' new dismissal routine made this potentially chaotic time of day calmer and more efficient. On a typical day, it took about ten minutes for twelve classes to exit the building. Because all students in each class packed up and left their classroom together with their teacher, dismissal time was less rushed, and children were less likely to miss their busses.
Walking down the hallway together and doing high fives at the door created a relaxed atmosphere and ended the day on a positive note for students and teachers. Time spent waiting while another class exited allowed teachers to touch base with students informally, and students to chat and wave to friends in other classes. Many nonteaching staff helped out at dismissal time as well, making this a daily time when the whole school community came together.
Craft a Dismissal Solution That Fits Your School
Your school may have more students than Four Corners, or separate exits for bus riders and walkers. But no matter your starting point, you can craft a dismissal solution that brings the day to an efficient and friendly close. Here are some keys to success:
Whole-staff involvement. Working together from the beginning to define the problem and identify a goal helps ensure that everyone has a stake in the solution.
Foundational skills in place first. Make sure students have the requisite skills needed for routines, and teach or reteach skills as needed. For example, at Four Corners schoolwide standards for hallway behavior were already in place, and children knew how to give gentle high fives.
Four Years Later . . .
A new school opened in the Four Corners school building in 2009. Staff at the Discovery School at Four Corners adapted the previous school's dismissal routine to meet the needs of their new school community. For example:
- They now use two exits instead of one. Relocating the bus-loading area simplified traffic flow at the front entrance considerably.
- School adults say good-bye to students when they leave rather than at the door. Teachers and other school staff now wait outside with students, saying good-bye to each child when he or she leaves.
- They still do high fives. Some of the Discovery School teachers adopted the previous school's signature way of saying good-bye.
In Our School: Building Community in Elementary Schools, by Karen Casto, EdD, and Jennifer R. Audley
Detailed, practical examples from more than twenty schools. Learn about building common knowledge, establishing schoolwide routines, holding successful gatherings and events, and involving families. Ideal for school leaders and study groups.
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