Rules are made to be broken, or so the saying goes. But when it comes to school, classroom rules can provide students with clarity, guidance and a sense calm.
Children who scream at each other, destroyed learning material lying in the corner and a class clown who always shows up late. It’s every teacher’s nightmare scenario. That’s why classrooms need ground rules. And right from the start too – even if you can only see the good side in your pupils. To put it simply, rules are a necessity.
But what are good rules and how should a teacher apply them to the classroom? Read on and find out.
What are classroom rules?
Classroom rules are a set of precepts that help organize learning activities and provide structure to how it a school classroom functions. Now to be clear, something like “Every Friday we tidy up the classroom for next week” is not really a rule; it’s more of a routine, or a habit. These are subject to change over time. Rules, however, are put in place to set an ongoing standard and establish clear expectations. “Show respect for properties, classmates and teachers,” is one example. But for rules to work, they must be clear, consistent and serve a purpose.
#1: Be consistent
Rules are the cornerstone of classroom management, so if you want to establish some classroom order, keep two things in mind: 1) rules must be implemented consistently; and 2) the teacher must follow the rules just as the students do. No teacher can reasonably expect a pupil to learn and follow a rule if the adult in the room isn’t setting an example by following suit. To do otherwise would only create confusion, which would essentially defeat the purpose of the rule in the first place.
So, say I eat an apple in the classroom once in a while – during exams, for example – can I really expect pupils to follow the classroom rule “No food during lessons”? As most educators will tell you, even very young children are incredibly attuned to the behavior of others. Another old saying comes to mind here: Monkey see, monkey do. In other words, the way to win students’ respect for the rules is to show that you respect them too.
Unfortunately, achieving perfect consistency isn’t always easy. However, to help establish the rules, make sure that they’re always visible – literally. For instance, putting a poster up on a classroom wall that clearly outlines the rules can help a lot. Since more teachers are now using a Blended Learning approach in their teaching, those rules could be highlighted online too. You could do this quite easily using GoConqr’s Slide function by simply inputting the rules and then sharing them with your learning group. This would make them visible to all users.
#2: Lead by example, learn through examples
A teacher who follows the rules is certainly one who is leading by example. But rules should never be just trotted out just for the sake of it. They should have meaning, be based on some constructive principle. Students are more likely to observe the rules if they understand why they are in place, so spend some time explaining them by offering examples. If you had a rule based on tolerance, for example, you could explain what values the rule serves to protect: Dies it give sanctity to different opinions? Or does it extend to being a bit late for class? Explaining rules like this is especially important at the beginning of a semester when there may be a certain giddiness in the air.
#3: Encourage transparency
Another important area that can encourage greater respect for classroom rules is transparency. Pupils should be given the chance to contribute their own ideas for rules. What would they change? What’s important to them? Listening to their ideas shows that it’s not only about the teacher’s needs, but about everybody else’s needs too.
This works best when you give your pupils a bit of time to brainstorm. You could open an online discussion in a GoConqr Study Group, and allow everyone to contribute their thoughts over a set period of time. After you’ve gathered enough ideas, you could then create a survey through which students could vote – in true democratic fashion – on the classroom rules they see as being most useful.
#4: Set a limit
In one of my favorite TV shows (the US crime series Navy CIS), the protagonist and boss of a group of agents consistently live by his “51 life rules”. These must also be followed and learned by his team members and trainees. While the audience gets introduced to the rules piece by piece during each season, one can’t help but ask how the team members can possibly remember all those rules. I know I certainly can’t.
The point here is that when it comes to classroom rules, less is usually more. Too many of them can create a fraught atmosphere with teachers on one side and students on the other. Around 5 basic rules should be enough to create a pleasant, cooperative classroom atmosphere. In the end, putting in place a brief list of important rules that everyone can agree on (even if they can’t always abide by them!) is much more important than producing an endless list of strictures than no one feels any meaningful connection to.
Got some tips, thoughts or opinions on classroom rules? Share them with us in the comments box below!