Setting up classroom expectations/”rules”

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My first year of teaching, I’d just come out of a Teacher’s Ed program that was all about giving the students a stake in their own behavior. My first two years, I let students generate the classroom expectations/”rules.”

I gave them categories (Respect each other, Respect yourself, Respect Mrs. Trace, Respect the materials we use and the material we cover in class). The class was broken into groups and each group got one of the categories. They had to come up with five ways they would show respect in their given category. Then I compiled all the groups’ responses and created a classroom expectations sheet, which I typed, printed, and copied.

I was quite proud of myself, but it didn’t work. By my third year, I laid down the rules myself (which I’ve narrowed down to one rule – see below) and that worked much better. It is a personal choice, but most of the teachers I’ve talked to agree that they do better when they determine the rules in advance and enforce them from day one. I also found that the student generated classroom expectations were just too lengthy. I’ve seen teachers do student generated expectations well, so I’m not saying don’t do it. I’m just saying my personal choice is to have one simple rule.

Here is an example of student generated classroom expectations from one of my classes:

Class generated expectations

The student generated classroom expectations look pretty great, right? I think so. I’d print out a copy for each student and laminate a poster sized version in the room, but it just wasn’t practical. The list was too cumbersome. When a student is acting out in class, you don’t have the time to think “is this on our list?” And you certainly don’t have time to go to the list and check.

Whereas I’ve found being able to ask this question much easier: “Is what you are doing preventing teaching or learning from happening?” If the answer is yes, then the behavior must stop because my classes agree to one rule at the beginning of the year. They agree that they will act in a way that allows for teaching and learning to take place in the classroom. Any behavior that prevents either teaching OR learning is unacceptable.

When it comes down to it, there is no one set of “rules” or even one “golden rule” that will work for all teachers in all classrooms. You will need to figure out the dynamics of your school and your classroom, but if you are going into your very own classroom for the first time, I recommend trying out my rule: “Act in a way that allows for teaching and learning to take place in the classroom.” That way you don’t need to remember a bunch of different rules. Here’s how I use it.

Let’s say a student comes in late.

I might have to stop teaching to correct that student’s absence in attendance. Has that stopped teaching or learning from taking place? Yes. Therefore tardiness is not acceptable.

How about this one. A student is texting during class.

Has that stopped teaching or learning from taking place? Yes. At the very least it has stopped that student’s learning for the duration that they are texting. Multi-tasking in this way is not possible (NPR did a great story on multi-tasking) and don’t let them try to tell you that they are paying attention while they are texting. More than likely it has also hindered the learning of the students around them who are watching that student text and wondering what they are texting about and if they are going to get caught.

One more: A group of students are taking while you are talking.

All three of the above scenarios will likely happen within your first week of teaching, but this one might be before you even have a chance to introduce the rule(s). Has that stopped teaching or learning from taking place? Yes.

Here’s what I do.

In any of these three scenarios, or most any scenario in which a student is behaving in a way I don’t want them to in my classroom I pose the question to them: “Has your behavior stopped teaching or learning from taking place?” If their answer is yes, they know the one and only rule and they will stop the behavior 95% of the time. I think having just one rule puts more pressure on them too. It’s like an unspoken, dude, there is only one rule, get it together.

Another situation I got stuck in sometimes with the list of class expectations was that a student would do something disruptive, but it didn’t fall under any of the expectation categories. They you get the “well you didn’t say we couldn’t ___fill in the blank___.” The single rule eliminates this. If it’s preventing teaching or learning then they shouldn’t be doing it.

There is also a bit of social pressure built into this rule. Peer pressure is going to happen, so it must be used for good. It is inherent that if you have disrupted teaching and/or learning, then you have disrupted what your peers are trying to do. You are getting in the way of their success in that moment. Boo on you. There is also the angle that you’ve disrupted the teacher. This works in the teacher’s favor if the teacher has a good relationship with the students. Students will not want to impede a teacher that they like and if that teacher reminds them of the ONE RULE in the classroom they are likely to correct their behavior quickly.

What do you think?

What expectations/”rules” do you plan to implement in your classroom? Veteran teachers, how do you feel about the one rule? Do you think it’s worth giving a try?

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I am a National Board Certified educator currently teaching in Virginia. I have taught the following: English 9, 10, 11, and 12 (on academic, collaborative, and honors levels); Dual Enrollment English; Mass Communications, Yearbook, Newspaper, and Communications Technology. I have experience in five different school systems, four in Virginia and one in Maryland. I served as my school’s 2019 Teacher of the Year and was a top five finalist for the Teacher of the Year for Virginia Beach City Public Schools. I am passionate about recruiting and retaining quality educators in our public schools. Let me help you find your path to changing lives through teaching!

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1 Response

  1. August 19, 2019

    […] Setting up classroom expectations/”rules” […]

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