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Response: Classroom Rules - Ways to Create, Introduce & Enforce Them

The new "question-of-the-week" is:

What are the best ways to introduce classroom rules in creative ways on my large classes (30-40 students per class)?

That was the submitted question, and the one I sent to guests who are providing formal responses.

I also made an addition and invited readers to contribute responses to the original question and to this one:

What are important classroom rules?


Classroom rules - we all have them, and we all sometimes have struggles enforcing them. What should they be, how should they be introduced and how do we maintain them?

It's the end of the school year for most of us right now, but it's never too early to begin planning for the next one!

Today, Lou Denti, Gini Cunningham, Cindi Rigsbee, PJ Caposey and readers share their responses.   You can listen to a ten-minute conversation I had with Lou and and my valued Sacramento colleague Alice Mercer on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

My contribution to the discussion is an article I wrote for Education Week a few years ago titled Giving Classrooms A Purpose. In it, one of the strategies I suggest is a process I often use at the beginning of a school year to help determine rules and expectations - students have to determine if they want to be in a "Community of Learners" or a "Classroom of Students."

Response From Lou Denti

Dr. Lou Denti is the Lawton Love Distinguished Professor in Special Education at California State University Monterey Bay. He is the author of numerous articles and several books in the field of education. His research interests include classroom management, response to intervention, and collaboration.  He is the author of Proactive Classroom Management: A Practical Guide to Empower Students and Teachers:

As one knows, if they have taught for any length of time, establishing classroom rules provides order and clarity for all students. Students expect you, the teacher, to be in control. Classroom rules frame the way students' behave and the manner in which the classroom operates. Too often, general rules, such as respect one another, are moored on the shoals of good intention. Respect is important, but operationalizing respect so that it is obvious within a classroom environment can be a challenge for even the most veteran teachers. I observe classrooms where general rules such as respect each other, pay attention, keep your hands to yourself etc. are tacked up on a wall as obligatory wall hanging and nothing more. I do not see teachers attending to them nor teaching them. Rules that are behaviorally written, such when I talk you listen by looking at me; can be taught and reinforced by the teacher.

So let's look at ways teachers can creatively establish rules that are clear and observable, include students in the process, and allow teachers opportunities to teach students expected behavior. And yes, teachers can establish consequences for not following the established rules. However, if the rules are clear, reinforced continuously, and students receive recognition and encouragement for following the rules, negative consequences are very rarely applied.

Me and We Rules: Involve students in writing the rules with you. In small groups have each student in the group write down 2 or 3 rules are expectations they would like to live by. Have each group sort them into up to 5 rules. Write group contributions on the board. Come up with a creative title for the activity. Winnow the rules down to NO MORE than 5! Make sure they are written behaviorally.

Eternity Rule: Write one rule down that is important to you-an Eternity Rule. That means that from now until you retire you will teach, reinforce, and live by that rule. Now have students come up with at least 3 more Eternity Rules for the rest of the school year. These will be the rules they will live by as well.

Roll the Die Rules: Create cardboard six sided cubes with rules that you value on each side of cube. Now have students in small groups roll the die for approximately 2 minutes. Each student gets a turn. Have students calculate the number of times a rule showed up. The rule that shows up most is shared with the class. All groups share the rule that received the most hits and then the teacher leads a discussion regarding those identified rules.

Rule My World: To teach the rule "entering the classroom politely-no pushing, shoving, yelling, etc." have a pair of students' role-play pushing, shoving, and yelling prior to the entering the room. In small groups the teacher has three written prompts-what went wrong with the way the students entered, what's a better way to enter, and why is pushing and shoving impolite? The teacher conducts a sharing activity and writes down responses on the board. The teacher reinforces the rule by asking students to remember the role-play and the group activity.



Response From Gini Cunningham

Gini Cunningham is author of The New Teacher's Companion: Practical Wisdom for Succeeding in the Classroom (ASCD, 2009). She can be reached at [email protected]:

The key to introducing rules is to engage the students so that they know and understand the rules and have a sense of ownership. Have students jot down the 3 key rules the class needs to create a conducive learning environment. Now explain your sharing procedure then model and practice. Sharing procedure:

  • 1-2 minutes to jot down ideas
  • 1-2 minutes to share with partner
  • 1 minute to create agreed upon response with partner
  • Randomly call on partners to share response with class

As rules are offered the teacher jots responses on board, easel, or projection equipment. With each response quickly ask, "How many students agree that this is a key rule?" Tally "yeah" and "nay".

Repeat until you have 3-5 possible classroom rules. Sometimes, especially with junior high students, you will receive a "rule" such as no homework. Simply say, "Students, with our goal of education, will this add to your knowledge and ability?" They know.

Take the 3-5 suggestions and type onto ballot. At the secondary level you may have several classes who respond but narrow to no more than 3-5, explaining to each class how you have combined their feedback. You do need to be certain that each class has at least 1 "rule" at stake.

The following day hand out the "rules" as students enter. Have them read and review, numbering their ballots with the 1, 2, or 3 most important. Share with partner or whole group. Gather the feedback and create your Rules Poster.

You have the rules, now what do you do when they are broken? Here is the key. Rules are worthless if you do not enforce them. So when Bobby comes late and slams his books on the desk you quietly and calmly respond, "Bobby, Rule 3 states show respect. I need you to re-enter following our class rule."

Hopefully Bobby is just having a rough start to the day and will comply. If so, problem solved. But sometimes students refuse to cooperate. The teacher must have Plan B ready. Plan B means that you have explained what happens when a rule is broken and then follow through. Possibilities:

  • "Bobby, please step out into the hallway and we will chat about this."
  • "Bobby, please complete this form to let me know why you are late." (a paper is handed out that has student's name and date, reason for being late, what the student plans to do...)
  • "Bobby, Ms Jones (other teacher, counselor, ally who already knows she will be called on as necessary) is expecting you. Please head to her..." Here Bobby completes information form on why he is late.

If Bobby, repeats this behavior frequently or refuses to cooperate with you, be sure that you have a counselor, dean, or administrator ready to assist. Do not be bullied by students when you are simply applying the rules they have created.



Response From Cindi Rigsbee

Cindi Rigsbee is a National Board Certified Teacher currently serving as a Regional Education Facilitator in North Carolina and working on recruitment and retention initiatives. A finalist for National Teacher of the Year in 2009, Cindi is the author of Finding Mrs. Warnecke: The Difference Teachers Make:

It's important for students to participate in decisions about classroom rules; they feel more connected to the class and have more "buy-in" to rules they've had a part in developing. Interactive websites like linoit.com and listthings.com enable the teacher to gather information from students on online "sticky notes." Students can brainstorm about classroom rules in an engaging way and then make decisions about which rules will best suit their class. After the rules have been selected, it helps to have students sign a contract agreeing to the rules they've chosen. I've seen floor-to-ceiling length bulletin board paper displayed in the classroom with student signatures on it; this type of visual says, "You agreed to these classroom rules..."             

I would like to add that I don't have the rule discussion on the first day of school. In middle and high school, students are changing classes and hearing rules up and down the halls all day long. So instead, I spend the first day sharing my philosophy of teaching in a speech I call "Mrs. Rigsbee's First Day of School Motivational Dream Speech." I talk about my dreams as a teacher and have the students share their goals and aspirations for the year and beyond. That way, I'm able to start building relationships the first day which is an alternative to the "you'll do this; you'll do that" discussion of rules.



Response From PJ Caposey

PJ Caposey is an award-winning educator, author of two books (Teach Smart and Building a Culture of Support), and sought after speaker and consultant specializing in school culture, principal coaching, effective evaluation practices, and student-centered instruction. PJ currently serves as the Superintendent of Schools for Meridian CUSD 223 in Northwest Illinois and can be reached via twitter (@MCUSDSupe):

A class of 40 students as mentioned in the question can be intimidating - and in fact some things we know about teaching and learning must adapt to best serve a class of that size - but not all things. I do not believe that setting the culture and climate of the classroom and discussing expectations (as the question alludes to) is one of those things that need to change.

This process, and all of the stated expectations, should follow consider the three guidelines below.

The Golden Rule: We are supposed to do unto others as we would have done unto us, correct? In that statement, there is no qualifier about who gives respect first, but yet that is something I often hear from teachers struggling with classroom management. Do teachers deserve respect - yes, but so do students . . . and to be quite honest, I don't care who gives respect first.  Remember that whatever rules, guidelines, or expectations exist in the classroom not only apply to you, but most importantly apply to you and should dictate your behavior.

Language is Important: Rules versus expectations. Consequences versus growth plans. These language pieces may seem like semantics, but in my opinion truly speak to the mindset of the teacher. Rules and consequences imply a desire to control. Expectations and growth plans connote positivity and a focus on the students. Telling students what they cannot do automatically introduces a negativity to the classroom - telling students what they are expected to do creates an entirely different culture.

Less is More: Think about it - how many rules or expectations are needed to have a really outstanding classroom climate? I have seen different examples of classroom guildelines displayed via syllabi, classroom posters, or written on blackboards literally thousands of times in my career. The best I have seen, was eight words in length - and said more than many with 100 times that much information. It was simple, direct, and succinct. We will RESPECT. Yourself. Each Other. Our Environment.  This created a sense of community, provided expectations, and included the teacher in the expectations. Truly - what more needs to be said?



Responses From Readers

Thanks to Lou, Gini, Cindi, and PJ, and to readers, for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment  with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at [email protected].When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it's selected or if you'd prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Anyone whose question is selected for this weekly column can choose one free book from a number of education publishers.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog -- along with new material -- in an ebook form.  It's titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

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