July 22, 2013

Management Monday: Restroom Routines in the Classroom

This week's tips for classroom management are all about the restroom!  This is another system that it took me a couple years to perfect, and of course it's one of those that may totally need to be revamped based on the group of kids you have.   I have always preferred individual restroom visits as opposed to a group restroom break because I think they take up less instructional time overall.  This post kind of spiralled out of control, but the more I wrote, the more I realized there are so many pieces to the routines!  Here are some things I consider:

When do I let them use the restroom?
I try to plan out in advance appropriate times when I will let me students use the restroom.  I understand that sometimes when you gotta go, you gotta go, but I feel like in my experience most kids can get into a pretty good routine of when they go.  I think it's super important to have an idea in your head of when you will and will not allow your students to leave the classroom and miss out on that sacred learning time.  Otherwise, when a student asks to leave, you might puzzle over it for a second, make a snap decision, and then change your mind later and not let another student go during that same subject.  With my 5th graders especially, being "fair" was an incredibly important part of earning their trust, so I really tried to be consistent.  Here are my typical rules

  • Times you MAY use the restroom: First thing in the morning when you get in/during announcements, during any transition time, during read aloud, during writing time (after the Writing Workshop mini-lesson), before and after lunch, before and after specials, during math ONLY if you are working independently (ex. guided math time but not working with the teacher)
  • Times you MAY NEVER use the restroom: During guided reading (even if you are not in a group!), during guided math groups, during ANY full group instruction (Writing Workshop mini-lesson, Math shared lesson, Science/SS lesson, etc.), during Intervention Block
How many times will I let them go?
Obviously some students have special needs when it comes to this type of thing, but I try very hard to stick to letting students go once in the morning and once in the afternoon.  They are also allowed to go at lunch time, so combined I feel that is PLENTY of opportunities.  Setting this expectation up front helps keep those few squirrly rascals from abusing restroom breaks!

How will they let me know when they need to go?
My pet peeve is students raising their hand when I'm teaching a lesson, me calling on them thinking they have a question, and them saying, "Can I use the restroom?"  UGH.  Lesson derailed, and my answer would of course be no in that situation anyways!  Instead, I use hand signals for both Restroom and Drink.
Hand Symbols and other reminder signs are posted in my room
Students know to hold up 1 finger when they need to use the restroom and 2 fingers when they would like to get a drink.  That way, no matter what I am doing, I can glance over, make eye contact, and simply nod my head yes or shake my head no.  Students know that if I say "no," it's either because someone is already there or it's not an appropriate time (i.e. NOT because I simply don't like them and want to say no...), and that they can ask again in a few minutes.  This way, even during a guided math group, I can send a student to the restroom from across the room without breaking my teaching stride.  Alternatively, you can teach kids the sign language signs for "toilet" and "water" which are super simple.  Many teachers in my building use these.

How many students will I allow at a time?  How will I enforce this?
I allow one boy and one girl to be out of the room at a time--period.  However, since I am constantly being pulled in 1000 different directions during the day, I can almost NEVER remember who is gone--even if I literally JUST gave them permission.  It's almost sad, really.  Early onset, school-induced dementia?  Tell me I'm not the only one!  Anyways, last year I tried something new to keep this straight, and I will NEVER go back!  Instead of restroom "passes" that the kids carry with them to the restroom (and that inevitably become a disgusting, germy mess--gross.), I have restroom beanie babies.
The elephant is for boys and the pig is for girls.  They live on a counter or file cabinet all day, and when a student goes to the restroom, they grab the beanie baby and place it on their desk.  That way, with a quick glance I know which student is gone.  Also, I know whether or not to allow a student to go. Ex. If Sally raises one finger, I glance over to the counter, see that the pink pig is not in its home, point to the empty space, and shake my head "No."  Sally knows that this means another girl is in the restroom, and that she needs to wait until the pig is back to ask again.  Most kids know to check the beanie baby home before they even ask to use the restroom, knowing only to ask when they are available.  Next year I will model and practice this piece of the system a little more!  I absolutely LOVE this routine, and I will never go back to another pass system.

Will I have students sign out?  How will I enforce this?
I keep my sign out sheets on a clipboard right outside my door.  I have used a desk for this in the past, and last year I switched midway through to an extra book shelf (we stored our LRC "return" and "renew" bins on the shelf too).  I copy a huge stack of sheets at the beginning of the year, clip a ton on at a time, and tie a pen to the clipboard with yarn or string.  I also keep a small digital clock out there because students cannot see our classroom clock from the room.  (This also solves the problem for needy students who may still struggle with telling time.  Of course I want them to learn, but I also want them to sign out correctly!)  I also keep a little paper tray next to the clip board for the filled sheets to be placed in.  
Classroom Sign Out
In the past, I really struggled with enforcing this procedure.  I'd get super frustrated when  the students wouldn't sign out or wouldn't sign out correctly.  I'd complain about it.  "Why can't they just do it right???"  Then I realized that, like EVERYTHING else in the classroom, instead of blaming the students, I needed to reflect on what I needed to do differently.  First, I needed to set my expectations more clearly.  I explain to the students on the first day why signing out is so important--if we have a fire or code red or tornado drill, I need to be able to check the sheet and know who is out of the room.  Knowing why they do something is really important, especially for older kids.  
Sign Out Sheets
Then, I model EXPLICITLY what I expect.  I have students model for the class the correct and incorrect ways to ask to use the restroom and sign out.  I make sheets for the kids to practice signing out on.  Seems like overkill, but it ALWAYS helps!  I also periodically glance at the sheets to check that students are signing out correctly.  If they're not, they get to practice signing in and out correctly at lunch for 5 minutes.  That usually does the trick!  It may seem like a lot of work for something little, but like I said, with my memory, there is no way I will remember which kid is in the restroom if we have a fire or lock down unless I have it written down.  Better safe than sorry, right?

Phew!  I think that covers everything!  It seems like so much information about something so small, but I really truly believe that getting little procedures and routines like this running smoothly can make all the difference from a management standpoint in the classroom!  Getting this procedure running like a well-oiled machine gives us the time and energy to focus on what matters--the teaching!!!

Tell me about your classroom restroom routines!


  1. Love the beanie baby idea! Definitely using that this upcoming year. I have the WORST memory and have been known to freak out because a kid was missing when, in reality, I had just given him permission to go to the bathroom.

  2. Routines are so key to keeping a classroom running smoothly! You have some great ones. I teach junior high so our bathroom situation is completely different being that they should be going during passing periods.

  3. I too love the beanie babies! Does your admin not require you/them to have a pass with them at all times though? I bought large wooden glitter covered letters from Hobby Lobby this summer...a pink G and a blue B. I was going to have them carry these with them (I like that they are large so they don't get forgotten in pockets or left in bathroom). But maybe, just maybe, I'll have them leave these on their desks. Hmmmmm. I also am implementing a punch card they can buy with their classroom money whenever they want. I know they won't use the bathroom for piddly reasons because then that means having to use their money to buy another one when they may not want to.

    Question for you...could you turn this into a linky party of sorts? It might be neat to have your followers, like myself, do this on their blog as well. Then we can all benefit from each other's. Just wondered if you were up for this? Maybe not a fancy linky party, but a way for us to also post on our blogs about mgt. techniques and then link up here somehow.


  4. Thank you for sharing your ideas! I am pinning this to reread before the year starts. Great ideas!!

  5. I love your new header! Thanks for sharing these great tips! Its always nice to get new ideas!

  6. I love the beanie babies! I feel like in most schools I've student taught in though, I'd get in huge trouble for the administration for using pink vs. blue (and only about half of them have had girls vs. boys bathrooms).

    The one thing I learned with student teaching (which I'm going to make sure of in september now that I'll be the "real" teacher) is to make sure lunch supervisors are in tune with what the teachers allow. In almost every school I've been in, either student teaching or volunteering, the teachers tell the kids they can go at lunch and recess (given that there is lunch hour + 2 recesses, it should be plenty). Trouble is, the lunch supervisors don't allow them go to in for the washroom during lunchtime!

    Also: funny story. You may or may not know that in Canada, few people call them "restrooms." Either "washrooms" or "bathrooms" work, but never "restrooms." So when I was a kid, and I read books that were published/set in the US, I assumed that kids in some schools had a special room in case they wanted to take a nap (and I was very jealous). It wasn't until I met an American kid for the first time, when I was nine, that I realized what it meant.

  7. I'm super excited to link up for Management Monday. I started to type up tomorrow's and thought...I'll wait to see what you post about, to possibly do a follow up. Since this week you talked about your restroom routine, I thought maybe I'd use a blog post to talk about how I run it...something like that. Part of it is because I do not have pictures of things that I wanted to write tomorrow's post about AND there are a few changes I'm making this year too. But no worries...I will link up with you tomorrow or possibly put it up a day late (on Tuesday).

  8. Thanks for Posting ! first time I have found a genuine post related to Washroom Gaming


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