By Angela Padron
One of the most important things to establish in a classroom is the rules. Back in the day, rules were written more in the negative form – Don’t do this, Don’t do that. They came across as more authoritative and intimidating. In recent years, it has been suggested to form the rules in a more positive way, which allows teachers to state the behaviors that they do want to see. For example, instead of writing, “Don’t call out.” the more positive form is “Raise your hand to speak.”
Some teachers choose to have students participate in the process of coming up with the classroom rules. Teachers can divide the children into groups and have each student write a list of five rules they think the class should have. Then students pass the papers to the right and students put a star next to the top three rules they think are the most important on that list. Students continue passing the paper around until each person has seen each other’s paper. Then the votes are tallied. Duplicates or similar rules are eliminated and the final top five are read aloud. Students as a whole vote on the rules to see if they are in agreement or if any should be changed. Be certain students can justify their reasoning for either opinion. Once the rules are agreed upon, create a poster and hang it in the classroom.
Other teachers, like myself, prefer to create the rules themselves. However, another idea to get students involved would be for them to write a class constitution or bill of rights to accompany the rules. This way each rule can be further explained and understood and the students will have felt some sort of participation and stake in the process. Teachers could also establish the rules but allow the students to come up with a list of rewards and consequences for each.
However you choose to approach the classroom rules, it’s important for students to know them and understand them. If you use words like “show respect” or “be courteous”, be sure to have a discussion about these terms and why they’re important. Have students act out these words, demonstrating scenarios in which students are showing respect and courtesy and situations in which they don’t.
It’s also important to stick to the rules and be fair across the board. Children will always test what they can get away with, so any break in the routine will diminish your authority as the teacher in the classroom. Students will start to feel as if what you say doesn’t matter, which could lead to disruption, disrespect, chaos, stress, and a rough ride to the end of the school year.
In addition, if one student breaks a rule, no matter if they are your best student or not, they must experience the same consequence as someone is consistently breaks the rules. This will prevent accusations of favoritism and unfairness in the classroom. By establishing the rules early, you will be ensuring a successful and productive year for you and your students.