One of the big pushes in the past decade has been the idea of classroom ownership and having students create their own classroom rules. While I love the idea in theory, I’ve often been put in the position of having to teach a brand-new group of students for a very limited number of sessions. In order to maximize our time-on-task, I decided to create three classroom rules that will work for any grade level or situation. The print outs are available free here.
Before You Get Started With Classroom Rules
As with any set of classroom expectations, these three rules must be taught and practiced. The younger the students are, the more time you will need to spend introducing these rules. You will need to be very explicit. Not every first grader understands the word “respect,” so you’ll need to give a lot of examples (and non-examples), and use visuals whenever possible.
Rule # 1 – Respect People
Respecting people is the #1 rule in my classroom. When students and teachers respect one another, the classroom becomes a second home. You want every member of the classroom to feel safe and appreciated. Respecting people includes (but is not limited to): the use of kind and inclusive words, active listening skills (maintaining eye contact, facing the speaker, not talking when others are talking, reducing distractions, etc.), keeping your hands, feet, and objects to yourself, not making fun of other people, what is bullying and what should be done about it, etc.
We also discuss peripheral members of our classroom community, such as classroom volunteers, substitute teachers, administrators, our school secretary, the maintenance team, our tech department, etc. I want students to know that the same rules apply, whether I am in the classroom or not.
To teach students to respect one another, I have students act out different scenarios. For example, what should our classroom look and sound like when a new student enters our class for the first time. What words should we say to that new student? What actions should we do to make them feel safe and welcome? Here are a few other scenarios you may want to practice with your students.
- How to respectfully line up and walk in a line
- What to do when someone gets hurt
- What to do if a student has a physical disability and needs assistance
- How we act when someone is having a bad day or going through a hard time
- What to do with scenarios involving diversity (for example, having questions about a student’s nationality or religious practices)
- How to be helpful and respectful to a guest (substitute) teacher
- What to do at recess if people want to play and there isn’t enough room for them (for example, when six people want to play Four Square)
- How to handle situations when you see another student doing something wrong (bullying a classmate, not sharing, etc.)
There are dozens of situations you can use – think of what applies to the kids you teach. If you see a certain problem arising in the classroom, use the scenario to reinforce the idea of respect.
It’s very important that you find quick and easy ways to get to know your students. We use this learning inventories to learn more about our students at the beginning of the school year.
Rule # 2 – Respect Property
I like having this rule because it covers so much – personal property, school supplies, wastefulness, and cleaning up after oneself. For school supplies, I like to get really specific – for example, how to use and not use glue sticks, how to store markers, what to do when you are done using a particular item, what to do when the stapler jams, the right way to use flexible seating options, what is allowed and not allowed in the recycle bin, and what to do if you are using something and it breaks or runs out.
This is the most concrete rule to teach, so younger students usually pick up on this one quickly. You can have students demonstrate this rule as different scenarios come up. The first time you play a math game with dice, for example, you will need to show students how you want them to roll the dice. Otherwise, you will have loud dice slamming all over the place, dice flying off desks, etc. Be sure to give every student the chance to practice using materials appropriately.
Rule # 3 – Respect Learning
Students come to school to learn, and the learning process must be respected. Respecting learning involves many aspects. Students need to first understand that all people learn differently and express their learning differently. Explain to students that some people learn best by seeing, some learn best by hearing, and some learn best by doing (hands-on). Some people take longer in certain subjects, require more practice, or have disabilities that make learning more challenging. This is a great chance to talk about growth mindset, and to emphasize growth mindset in your classroom. Here’s a post we wrote about using growth mindset with your students.
Students also need to know how to support the learning process with their classmates. For example, telling your classmate the answer may SEEM like helping, but it actually takes away their chance to learn. Teach students how to ask guiding questions to help their classmates in the learning process.
Respecting learning involves making sure the classroom stays quiet when it needs to be quiet (such as during an assessment or a presentation), and hearing all voices when students are working in collaborative groups. It involves students being actively involved in their own learning. This means keeping the classroom free of distractions (outside toys, cell phones), expecting all students to participate (even though participation may look different for each student), and expecting students to ask for help when they need it.
Asking the questions, “Are we respecting learning right now?” or “Are we respecting ____’s right to learn?” will help your students focus on this rule.
These three rules will cover pretty much any classroom issue or situation that comes up throughout the year. The key is making each rule clear and explicit, practicing each rule as it is introduced and as often as necessary, and positively praising students when they follow the rules.