Standing And Walking In Lines

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Nick Burton

Since qualifying as a Primary Teacher, Nick has held a number of teaching positions in the UK. He recently moved to Scotland and is currently working in Midlothian. He loves finding new ways to deliver lessons and use educational spaces in ways that best suit...
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Is it time to stop telling our children to stand and walk in straight, quiet lines?

“Children should be seen and not heard.” This was the mantra of 15th century schooling in Britain and across the world. At the time, it was necessary as most children (and adults) would either be expected to work in factories or in mines.

A cultural habit?

Everyday, a scene not unlike something from Matilda, is re-enacted in the corridors and cloakrooms of some British schools. It is only through culture and habit, not through necessity, that we routinely spend valuable time and energy motivating children to line up smartly each day, and maintain a line while walking through the school corridors.

A complete waste of time

Recently, I tried to calculate how much time I was wasting trying to get my class to line up sensibly during transitional periods. In one day, I spent 15 minutes waiting for my children to form a line and maintaining the order of the line, as per my school’s expectations. Astonishingly, this equates to an hour and a quarter every week. This is more time than my school allocates to Expressive Arts!

It has no application to the real world

No job outside the armed forces or police requires people to be quiet and walk in a line, certainly not as a prerequisite. This was very different two centuries ago, where this habit was relevant.

It seems ridiculous to use so much valuable time doing something that neither benefits nor prepares the children in any way for life outside school.

It’s never in-keeping with school mission statements

You’re unlikely to find a trace of this principle in any school mission statement or ethos. Just imagine seeing this:

“We want our students to be responsible, respectful, innovative, and creative. We want our students to think outside the box….to see the big picture, to always seek the why… walk in straight, silent lines.”

Lining up is not inclusive

“We are not going to move until everyone is lining up sensibly.”

I have recently started to catch myself patiently repeating this line until satisfied. I never am satisfied because children with ADHD and other needs may find it difficult to stand, or stay, in line. In class, we provide means of coping such as fidget toys, stress balls, putty or egg timers. But the line at the door, in the cloakroom or on the playground is never quite satisfactory. There’s always one or two children that, no matter how hard they try, cannot stay still.

What should we do instead?

Spatial awareness is a skill in dire need of practice in most primary schools. Children invariably bump into each other during P.E. class and are not great at looking where they are going. As long as we continue to march our children around schools they will not become more aware of their surroundings.

See transitions as learning opportunities

Transitional phases in the day are valuable opportunities for children to develop courtesy, friendship, manners, respect and spatial awareness. It is completely reasonable to assume children can be quiet moving past rooms where learning is taking place without having to walk in a line. Instead of lining up before school after break and after lunch, we could be using the time more wisely. Children could take themselves straight to class to meditate, have quiet conversations or read a book.

My verdict

It’s time to banish the Victorian themed ‘walk blindly and stand silently in lines’ idea to the past. It should have been binned decades ago, around the same time as the cane and the UK’s manufacturing industry.

What do you think?

10 thoughts on “Standing And Walking In Lines

  1. I agree that it’s ridiculous and a waste of time. Matches the thinking that school uniform and zero tolerance behaviour policies shape the kind of people we want. Imagine were asked to line up in silence before entering and exiting the room when you’re on a course.

  2. Disagree. There are plenty of real life applications of standing in a line patiently. There are health and safety reasons for moving around narrow school.corridors in single file (i.e. a line)and in doing so transitions are inevitably smoother.

    1. Personally, I didn’t learn spatial awareness and consideration from standing and walking in lines, rather as I stated in the article I found them to do the opposite, and made me less aware of my surroundings

  3. It depends. I find that lining up outside the class helps to calm the pupils down especially after lunch and break times. It also allows for greeting pupils and welcoming them to class.

  4. I disagree. Before we can allow children and young people tota; autonomy they must be taught self-regulation. Compliance is only one of several rungs on a behavioural ladder we
    hope all our students will climb, but it is a necessary one to achieve first. Once obtained,
    students can then be supported into true autonomy and independence, where they
    reliably and consciously make wise and civil decisions without supervision or restraint.
    This process closely mirrors the broader model of human maturation, in which schools
    have a part to play.

    1. Interesting take – do you think that walking and standing in lines is an integral part of what taught you self regulation?

      1. I think it played a part in me being able to adapt and regulate my behaviour appropriately to the environment I’m in.

  5. Once you teach them how to get into a fast and quiet line, it takes no time at all, really. Yes, a little time at the beginning of the year, but it is worth it. Transitions are smooth and quiet. This is especially helpful if we are passing another class in the hallway and other classroom doors are open with students working inside. Of course, there are real world applications for lines.

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