In previous posts, I asserted that most disciplinary rules are unnecessary (As a Rule, Forget About Rules), and shared three categories of rules that are necessary (Exceptions to the Rule Against Rules). And now, a few rules for establishing rules so that they have a positive effect on classroom culture and efficiency:
- Be specific. One of the most common rules I see posted in classrooms is "Be respectful." No problem there, since we should indeed hold students to this standard. Your definition of respect, however, may be different than that of your students (as I learned when I went after a kid for calling a classmate a "bad m.f.," and the target of this "compliment" replied, "no Coach G, we're cool"). So be sure to define for students what respect looks like and sounds like in your classroom. Same goes for other ambiguous rules like "Be responsible."
- Use positive language. Tell students what you want them to do rather than what you do not want them to do. Example: "Speak in a soft voice..." is better than "No yelling..."
- Include rationale. We as adults are more likely to respect a rule or policy when we understand the rationale for it. Same goes for kids. Tell students what you want them to do, and why you want them to do it. Example: "Speak in a soft voice during group work so that students in other groups can hear each other."
- Think outside the box. I'm not suggesting you be different for the sake of being different. But any time you can overcome a classroom challenge in a way students find refreshing (and even amusing), go for it. Examples: see Preventing Classroom Profanity With Peace and Love and A Stand-Up Approach to Students Sleeping in Class.
- Choose natural consequences. The best rules are self-policing such that you never need to interrupt class to say or do anything when students break them. A key to this is natural consequences. I've worked in schools, for example, where teachers were expected to penalize students for tardiness. But because I started class each day with a Quick Quiz that accounted for 25% of students' grades--meaning an automatic negative consequence for latecomers--I never had to impose a punitive consequence for tardiness. In other words, I was effectively punishing students for being late rather than expressly punishing them for it (and doing so without giving any attention to their undesirable behavior).
Now don't get the wrong idea here. I still--and always will--maintain that most classroom rules are counterproductive and unnecessary. But as I've written before, there are circumstances for which having rules was prudent for me, just as it may be for you. What's important is that we establish those rules so that students understand and respect them, and we can easily enforce them. That's what the above classroom rules rules did for me, and I'm confident they'll do it for you too.
Image provided by GECC, LLC with permission
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