Second grade teacher Samantha posed this question on the WeAreTeachers HELPLINE Facebook group: “I’m looking for suggestions on how to make my dismissal time less chaotic. They’ll be okay, and then as soon as they start putting their coats on, they start going nuts. They’re wandering around, not following directions, just causing trouble. I’ve changed what I teach at the end of the day so its calmer, and I wait until the last possible moment to line them up. I could use some dismissal tips.”
Fellow teachers heard and responded. Here are eight dismissal tips to help teachers at every level keep their cool until the day is finally done.
1. Establish a routine.
Whatever dismissal tips and procedures work for you, do it the same way each day. “Have clear expectations. Stop reacting to the students misbehaving and positively reinforce the behavior you expect to see,” recommends Mark H.
“I set my Apple Watch for two minutes before the bell,” says Em T. “We use that time to clean and pack. After that the routine is to push your chair in and stand behind your chair. Lots of routine and practice.”
Maria J. agrees. “Tell them the expectations well before the end of the day. Tell the procedure and then have the students practice how to do the expected behavior. Compliment often, like, ‘Joey is following the procedure! Good job, Joey!’ Others will follow to get their compliments. When it goes well tell them great job! And each day remind them of the expected behavior.”
Emily W. adds, “Sometimes finding the positive ones helps the others want to do well. But you have to flood them for every little thing they do right at dismissal to make it work and help them catch on at first.”
If things still feel chaotic, evaluate your classroom: “Make sure your traffic pattern in your room works for good flow during pack-up routines,” Lydia L. says.
2. Break it down.
Rather than doing everything all at once, break down end-of-day activities into smaller tasks. Stephanie M. suggests, “Allow a few minutes before dismissal to clean to your satisfaction. Have them return to sitting quietly in their seats, then do a quick check [before they start to pack up their stuff].”
Original poster Samantha reported back: “I did start doing a new job that I call backpack helper. They actually gathered everyone’s belongings and placed them on the back of their chair. It’s reduced how many are out of their seats.”
Ana T. says, “I have 30 third graders. At the end of the day, I set a three-minute timer, and they all have a job to do. When the timer goes off, I assign group leaders to check a group. Once the leader is done checking, they send that group to get their backpack. The group that has everything exactly as I expect it and [was] the quietest getting backpacks gets a reward.” She notes that her teaching partner gives a small trophy to the winning group for them to display on their desks the next day, and they get to line up first.
3. Space it out.
One of the most common dismissal tips is to release students a few at a time, preventing an all-at-once stampede. “Let them get coats one at a time and have an activity for them to do after they get their coat,” suggests Rebekah C. “It will take longer, but it will also be calmer.”
“I have my second graders pack up by row at the end of the day,” explains Regan H. “The others read quietly at their desk until their row is called. Everyone has the chance to move up on the behavior board until all are packed up. My homework monitor calls the rows and keeps the packer-uppers quiet and focused.”
Other teachers note that you can take care of some of the chaos in advance. Ali S. advises, “Don’t wait to pack up homework folders and papers at the end of the day. I make sure any necessary papers are passed out in their cubbies before snack in the afternoon. Then during snack time they have to pack up their homework folder and have it completely zipped in their backpack. So at the end of the day all they’re doing is putting on coats and backpacks.”
4. Clean up the classroom.
Kids are full of energy at this time of day, so put it to good use. Christiana J. plays Magic Trash: “I ‘pick’ a piece of trash and everyone has to bring me a piece of trash in hopes that it’s the magic piece I chose. If it is, they get a piece of candy! It works well because it helps my Clean Team get the floors done, but it also keeps them busy because after they choose their one piece, they come to my desk to show me, throw it out, then sit on the rug. They HAVE to sit on the rug and stay quiet in order for me to reveal the magic piece.” Leah K. notes you can also do this with classroom items that need to be put away.
Always in a time crunch at the end of the day? “I have my fifth graders clean after lunch, so dismissal is only clean up after a half day,” says Michele S.
5. Start a sharing circle.
They’ve got their coats and backpacks, but now kids have to wait until they’re called for the bus or parent pick-up. How do you fill that time in a productive way? Here’s what Stephanie S. does. “We do a circle at the end of the day in my first grade class. We come in from recess, everybody gets their stuff on and sits down at the circle. Then we share about our favorite part of the day, what we did to help somebody, and other little things like that.”
She continues, “Helpers always get to share first, and everybody else only gets time to share if they come to the circle quickly and quietly. Otherwise, we run out of time. Everybody wants a chance to share, so this has really cut down on end-of-day chaos. It’s also awesome because we’re ending the day on a positive note, talking about what went well!”
6. Read aloud.
Another one of teachers’ favorite dismissal tips? End the day with a book. Linda R. combines it with end-of-day prep. “While reading aloud, walk around the room and touch three quiet listeners on the shoulder to go get their things, then they in turn pick someone when they return to their seat.”
Lydia L. loves to end the day with a book too. “Pack them up 15 minutes before the bell. Have them gather at the rug, coats and backpacks on, and read them a story. Students who are wild get sent back to their seats to listen from there.”
7. Keep them in their seats.
“You have to keep them in their seats,” says Jennifer M. “I do mystery science mini videos while I wait for my bus order.” (Get great free science videos here.) She also likes to watch Flocabulary videos, while Tylar S. loves to show drawing tutorials from Art Hub.
Games are great too! Julie B. likes the old classic I Spy. Play a quick round of Pictionary, Scattergories, or Boggle. Show a brain teaser on the projector, or try Stories With Holes, recommended by Nina H.
Michelle K. plays this quick and fun number game. “I pick a number in my head between 1–20, or you could go 1–100, and move up later in the year. The kids have to raise their hand and guess, and all you say is higher or lower. The kids around them have to be listening, otherwise they have no idea. They get super excited but they stay quieter because if they are listening they will pinpoint where the number is located and then you can let them know when they hit it. And if you want, you can pick a kid to pick the number the next time, and the kids guess.”
8. Embrace the chaos.
“Sometimes I wonder if I don’t get a little obsessed with the control,” admits OJ P. “I know they need to be safe and come back together to get to the bus. I am just always uncomfortable at dismissal too, and then I think, they really aren’t doing anything wrong; they’re just being loud and moving around. They are excited to go home!”
Michele S. feels this way too. “If you’re able to let them play on the playground or run around a minute or two before the last bell rings, that’s very motivating. Set a timer for ten minutes before dismissal. If they’re ready before the timer rings, take them out early.”
Kristen M. combines chaos with order in a sneaky way. “I play a GoNoodle indoor recess video—10 or so minutes, so they’re dancing on the rug. Then I sit down to do their daily folders. I call them one by one to go pack up and they go put their stuff up and come back and dance on the rug.”
Got more great dismissal tips to share or have another question to ask of your fellow teachers? Join us on the WeAreTeachers HELPLINE Facebook group.