Establishing Classroom Rules

Published: 10/19/2012 8:50 AM
One of the keys to having effective classroom management is to have a discipline plan.  One component of a discipline plan is to establish effective classroom rules at the beginning of the year.  Students need to know rules, routines and procedures at the beginning of your class, before you start to tackle any content.
Establish rules and procedures the first day of school.  Students need to know your expectations from the beginning.  They need to know your expectations for behavior and daily classroom procedures and routines.  Even though the first day is hectic, it should model a regular day as much as possible so that students know what to expect.  If you plan to do a sponge or entrance activity, then do it on the first day.  You may need to model it for them to get the desired result.  Show them how you want it written, where it needs to be turned in, etc. 
Let students have a part in establishing classroom rules.  This gives students more ownership in the process and makes them more likely to hold each other accountable.  Be careful, however, because student-set rules tend to be strict to the point of unmanageability for you.
Make sure rules are positive in nature.   When a student is told to not do something, it makes them want to take the action even more.  When we phrase our rules to say things like, "Don't get out of your seat during class without permission", many students take that as a personal challenge.  They decide to do what we've told them not to, just to see what the outcome will be.  Instead, try stating your rules in terms such as, "Be sure to obtain permission before getting out of your seat during class."
Rules must be short and simple, yet well defined.  You might have a rule that states, "Be respectful to your instructor and your peers."  While this meets all requirements of a good rule, your definition of respect and your students' definition of respect may be totally different.  Have students provide examples and non-examples of this behavior to make sure there is an understanding between teacher and students.
Keep the list short .  Limit yourself to three to five rules.  Students will be much more likely to remember a shorter list of more general rules than a long list of very specific ones. In order to obtain desired behaviors, you may have to make rules broad enough to cover a wide range of situations.
Reflect your values in your rules.  Make sure your rules are all in place in order to make your classroom a more effective learning climate.  While it's tempting to develop a list of rules to prevent students from pushing us into insanity, if we focus on rules that will support our students as learners, we will get a much better response.
Enforce the rules.  You could have the most perfect set of classroom rules in your school, but if you don't enforce them completely and consistently, they will be useless.  Once students realize that they can break your rules with no consequences, they will continue to do so. 
There are many strategies and sample lessons to help you get student input into the rule-making process.
Performance Learning Systems:  Contains guidelines for establishing effective rules.
Marzano, Robert . Classroom Management That Works: Research-Based Strategies for Every Teacher. : Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development , 2003.
This book analyzes research from more than 100 studies on classroom management and documents how specific strategies affect student learning.  Establishing effective rules and procedures is addressed in a series of action steps  for educators.
McLeod, Joyce , Jan Fisher, and Ginny Hoover. The Key Elements of Classroom Management: Managing Time and Space, Student Behavior, and Instructional Strategies. : Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development , 2003.
In the second section of this book, Jan Fisher, a veteran teacher, addresses establishing and teaching classroom standards, rules and procedures.
Rightmyer, Elizabeth. "Democratic Discipline: Children Creating Solutions." Young Children 58.4 (2003): 38-45.
Provides a description of a democratic classroom where discipline is student- centered.  Students deliberate and construct classroom rules.
Laura Arnold
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