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Really Good U: Establishing Strong Classroom Rules

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Really Good U: Establishing Strong Classroom Rules

While the majority, if not all, of schools and districts have discipline policies in place, teachers are often left to establish guidelines for their own classroom. Whether they use the standard school rules as a springboard for additional rules or simply follow the already established ones, is a personal decision. “We use the school-wide discipline rules as our ‘non-negotiables’ and then add some more guidelines for the class,” explains Malissa M., a teacher from LaVernia, Texas. No matter which option they choose, to add additional rules or not, all veteran teachers know that the key to establishing strong classroom rules is to do it immediately.

Cara F., a teacher from Paxton, Illinois, agrees. “Make the rules clear from the beginning and enforce them. It is easier to ease up than it is to gain control later on,” she says. How early on in the school year should rules be discussed? Most teachers agree that the very first day of school is the perfect time.

“On the first day of school, I explain to the class that as a community we are going to discuss and decide on the rules that we think should be posted in our classroom,” explains C. Pettinella, a teacher in Tuckahoe, New York. “They begin to realize that they have to really pay attention to the rules, because they are things that they decided are important. It gets them thinking about what is important to do and what should not be done in the classroom.”

How do teachers get students to the point where they can come up with the rules themselves? What if they do not address all of the rules that the teacher may have in mind? Nichole, a teacher in San Mateo, California, lets her students come up with behaviors and goals that they think are important, but then molds them into the three basic rules that she has in mind. “We write down our hopes and dreams for the year and then discuss things that could stop us from accomplishing those dreams (i.e.- a noisy classroom, being unorganized, etc.). We write those on sentence strips and organize them into groups that go together. I announce that I have three rules that would encompass all these things that we need: Be respectful, Be resourceful, Be responsible. I have the kids copy their hopes and dreams on a construction paper cloud, and then the three rules are written down in a rainbow coming out of the cloud. The kids have a visual about how their goals for the classroom are directly related to the room rules.”

Understanding what the classroom rules are and what implications they have for each student is also important. For younger students, as well as older ones, that understanding comes from not only hearing the rules, but seeing them demonstrated. “We talk about what all of these rules mean and what they look like in every aspect of school,” explains Erika M., a teacher from Norwood, Ohio. “I strongly believe in not only telling my students the rules, but also modeling the behaviors that I expect to see throughout the entire year. I model correct behaviors, as well as incorrect behaviors, and select students to model, as well. We discuss and practice the rules in every part of the school: the hallway, the stairs, the bathroom, the cafeteria, the playground, and in the classroom: on the carpet, at our seats, at each individual station, in line, etc. Seeing the correct behaviors, as well as, the incorrect behaviors leaves no room for uncertainty.”

When it comes time to enforce those rules, teachers are then faced with how to go about it. Confronting students in front of their peers can damage not only the relationship with the student in question, but it can also damage the teacher’s relationship with the class. Addressing the situation privately can have a much greater positive impact. Kelli D., a High School teacher from North Carolina, agrees. “I almost never confront a student in front of their peers, but I will take them out of the room and speak with them,” she says. “I almost think this creates an atmosphere of respect, but also when the student comes back in the room and behaves, there is a reverence for me the teacher and the atmosphere is that I will not put up with misbehavior.”

As the new school year quickly approaches, keep in mind the key aspects of establishing strong classroom rules: Begin Immediately, Set Clear Rules and Model Them, and Enforce the Rules with Respect. By tackling this challenging aspect of classroom management head-on, the potential for a more relaxed and positive classroom atmosphere increases. Students not only need to know the rules, but they need to know that they will be enforced fairly and consistently. Expect there to be boundary testing and have a clear plan for how it will be handled. Start planning classroom rules now for a successful school year.

Questions to Consider:

  • What are three rules that are non-negotiable in my classroom?
  • How can I help students become invested in those rules?
  • What is my plan of action when a rule is broken? How can I maintain consistency?

Additional Resources:

Know and Follow Rules by Cheri J. Meiners

Rules in School by Mary Beth Forton, Deborah Porter, Chip Wood and Kathryn Brady

Managing Your Classroom with Heart: A Guide for Nurturing Adolescent Learners by Katy Ridnouer

This article is part of Really Good Stuff’s

Really Good U:  Classroom Management Series.

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