When I first set out to be a kindergarten teacher, I never thought pacing would be one of my toughest challenges. But plans would change on a dime, and even though this could be exciting, it was also tough to constantly meet these changes head on. I quickly found myself feeling off track in my first year.
What happened? How could my inexhaustible energy have been exhausted so quickly? Why did some routines soar and others crash and burn?
My problems definitely had to do with pacing. It can be difficult for educators to admit that we have an issue with pacing—after all, we write lesson plans and try to stay on task as much as possible. But all teachers experience this from time to time, and we have to figure out what works to get ourselves back on track.
I’m still teaching kindergarten more than 10 years later, and these are some of my most successful strategies for managing classroom pacing successfully. They can positively impact support staff by providing clear and organized plans and improve student engagement so that kids don’t get bored. And let’s be honest—they’ve also helped me maintain my sanity as a teacher. I hope some of these tips can help you, too.
5 Tips for Improved Classroom Pacing
1. Put yourself on a timer: For a kindergarten teacher, it’s easy to get sidetracked or chase after a teachable moment. When something unexpected occurs—and it always will—I tend to lose track of the target or objective because my students are engaged.
To address this, I bought a kitchen timer, and I give myself limits as needed. When I know I’m at risk of going off on a tangent, I put three minutes on the timer and press start. The kids love holding me accountable, and it really works well as a reminder to end when the timer does.
I use the timer in several ways—for quizzes, independent work, and small group time, for example. I also use it to allow for the unexpected teachable moment—after a specified period, I get back to the plan for the day.
2. Plan breaks for the kids—and actually take them: No matter what your curriculum, there will always be more to teach than you can cram into a day. First-year me would always try to finish a lesson, hit all the talking points, and have a debrief at the end.
I won’t tell you to not have that as your goal, but kindergarten is a group of tired, hungry, wiggly, and emotional 5-year-olds. I learned early on that you can’t teach hungry or tired kids, and you shouldn’t try.
Three minutes of silly songs, freeze dancing, snack time, or GoNoodle.com will reinvigorate your crew and can mean the difference between finishing strong with joy and learning or ending with frustrations or even tantrums.
3. Give yourself permission to put a pin in it: There will be times when, in spite of your best efforts, you can’t finish everything. The best-prepped lesson plans will never foresee random fire drills, manipulatives that somehow get eaten, or the stomach flu that scrambles any semblance of order.
It’s OK to put a pin in your lesson. Pause where you are instead of rushing to finish with unfocused kiddos or difficult time constraints.
4. Practice, practice, practice: Routines and procedures for all things are what make kindergarten possible. How do you ask for a tissue? Can a student really use the bathroom without saying a word?
Set up your procedures and share them with your class and your assistant or anyone else on your team. Practice them often. Document your best times as a celebration of your improvement.
5. Plan out every moment: When all else fails, extreme measures are necessary. If you find yourself unable to stay on pace, write your schedule on the chalkboard each and every day.
Every transition, class, break, routing, and procedure has a start and end time. As you go through the day, cross items off your list as a way to confirm with students that everyone met the target.
I use this strategy to this day, and it’s so helpful. My students really take ownership in helping tackle our daily objectives and goals. In turn, this helps with our overall classroom pacing as we meet curricular goals.
While I didn’t place a high priority on pacing early in my career, I quickly learned how important it is. I’m kind of a nerd about it now and have even come up with my own definition of what instructional pacing is: comprehending and integrating curriculum, schedule, and state and school expectations with classroom resources and student needs to plan actionable moments every day over the course of an academic year.
I know that figuring out pacing has made me a better teacher, and I continue to practice these ideas every day.