Setting rules can sometimes seem difficult and enforcing them can feel even more challenging. As a new teacher, I struggled with crafting rules, managing my classes, being consistent, and if I’m being honest, many, many other aspects of the role. During my first year of teaching, I worked with the same two classes and had multiple subjects with them. I was fortunate because I was able to nurture better relationships and meet each students’ individual needs. They were naturally well behaved and patient as I figured out my teaching style. The next year, I moved to another school where I taught five different Grade 8 classes that each had 50 students in them and their ages ranged from 13 – 21*. I learned quickly that if I didn’t develop a good classroom management plan and put energy into implementing it at the beginning of the school year, I would be faced to deal with students misbehaving and a disruptive class.
This article outlines the criteria I use to create rules and the methods in which I implement them. As teachers, we hold an extremely important role of establishing rules and enforcing them consistently in order to maintain an environment that is enjoyable, safe, and conducive for learning. To construct the perfect set of rules, I suggest starting with a short list of rules and then leading a discussion about whether they should stay the same or if they can be adapted or expanded to best fit the individuality of each class. With all of that said, let’s get started. I’ve included my example set of rules, but really it’s up to you to figure out what will work best for you and your class.
CRITERIA FOR RULES
- They should be simple. Your students should be able to understand what they mean without having much explanation.
- They should be clear. If there is any ambiguity, uncertainty, or grey area about what a rule means or what behavior it is referring to, this can lead to arguments, friction, and misunderstandings.
- They should be visible. Print the rules and consequences and put them in a place where they can be seen and referenced.
- Finally, they should be behavior focused. Having rules that are focused on behavior makes it achievable to fix the misbehavior. Having a rule like “turn in homework on time” is more of an academic expectation and should be included in procedures for what happens if a student is absent or needs more time to complete the assignment. Rules should focus more on what will make your classroom a safe environment that promotes learning.
When I introduce a set of rules, I write them on the board and follow it with a class discussion about what kind of environment we want and if these rules help accomplish that. I might phrase the question like “What do you need from your classmates (and me) to learn best?” Having discussions about their environment and rules allow for students to reflect, feel motivated to follow the rules, and create a sense of ownership since they took part in their development. This is a really good time to ask for examples of what following the rules and breaking the rules look like. It should be encouraged for students to ask clarifying questions to ensure they understand what is expected of them.
MY LIST OF RULES
- Respect teachers, peers, and their things.
- Listen and follow directions quickly.
- Keep your hands to yourself.
- Laugh with others, but never at them.
- Golden Rule: Treat others how you want to be treated. Go a step further with the Platinum Rule: Treat others how they want to be treated.
**Rule 5 is mostly a best practices rule. I want my students to be reminded to make a conscious effort to think about others and develop empathy, which is a by-product of practicing the rules.
After we have agreed on a set of rules, I have students help decide what the consequences should be if a rule is broken. Remember, the rules and consequences should be delivered in a positive manner because they’re supposed to help us maintain a positive space. We are no longer able to feel safe, have fun, or learn if we aren’t abiding by the rules we all agreed on.
1st Time: Warning
Having a laminated class roster and making a tally mark next to the student’s name will help you keep track of who has been given a warning and what phase (of the consequences) they are in. This is meant just for you so I wouldn’t recommend hanging it up. The point of it is for you to manage your class, not humiliate them. Plus, you could hang a sticker chart that rewards positive behavior, which is a way to celebrate accomplishments. When I’m giving a warning and don’t want to disrupt my teaching, I usually give a yellow card (laminate these as well).
2nd Time: Time-Out
It’s important to note that time-out should not be done in a way that humiliates the student. Based off a lot of research, kids should typically have a minimum of fifteen minutes in time-out to calm their emotions, reflect on misbehavior, feel remorseful, and accept responsibility. Time-out is about giving them some space to reflect and think—set aside a desk or two with the purpose of creating separation for that to happen. It’s also supposed to foster introspection and motivate a student to improve and not repeat the same behavior. A student might not be ready at the fifteen-minute mark and that is okay. When a student does feel ready to go back to his/her/their seat, they can raise their hand and I will go to them at my next available moment. Then it’s on them to convince me that they understand what rule they broke and are remorseful, not just trying to appease me. I recommend not sending students outside the classroom for many reasons, 1) they miss instruction, 2) you can’t monitor them, and 3) some students use it as free time, so there is a lack of accountability.
3rd Time: Letter home & time-out for every time they misbehave
Draw up a simple note that you can use to send parents when a student has reached the third consequence. Try not to include emotions, just facts. It should be short and to the point. To ensure that the parent(s) or guardian(s) received the note, I require my students to bring back the note signed. This may not work in every school environment, especially if you are a Peace Corps Volunteer teacher. For example, a school where the students live in the hostel won’t be conducive for this.
Obviously there are many different classroom management plans and methods, but this seemed to be the most simple and effective set of rules and consequences that have worked for me along with good routines, procedures, and positive reinforcement systems. Rules and consequences are just a fraction of a good and effective classroom management plan. Routines and procedures will need practice. You’ll need to continue to build relationships and rapport. With all of the things you implement, try to be thoughtful and consistent as possible.
Thank you for reading my blog and I really hope that it is helpful.
Wishing you the best, wherever you are.
*In Namibia, there are many reasons why there would be such a large age range for students in classes here. I’ve had learners who have had to take a break from school and when they come back, they resumed where they left off. A specific example is one of my students needing to take time off because he had to take care of his family’s cattle. Another possible reason is that they didn’t pass one of their required classes and needed to repeat the grade. It’s just important that you don’t make assumptions as a teacher and meet them where they’re at.