How to Establish Classroom Rules That Actually Work

Wondering how to establish classroom rules? Develop them together. To begin, remind the class of your number one priority: learning. Ask them to brainstorm a list of conditions in which they learn best. From that, list rules. Finally, combine and pare the list to create a simple set of guidelines.

Ms. Sneed and Her Students Create Classroom Rules

Our favorite fourth grade teacher stood in front of her students, neatly arranged with her new seating chart. Today they would establish classroom rules. She took a deep breath and launched into the next step toward managing her class.

1. Discuss Optimal Learning Conditions

“Okay, folks, welcome to Day #2,” began Ms. Sneed.

Twenty-seven bright and shiny faces smiled at her. Everyone sat at attention. Yep, they were still in the honeymoon phase of the school year.

“The first item on our agenda is establishing classroom rules.” The kids’ smiles faded slightly. A few students squirmed.

“Before we get started, I want to focus on our top priority: learning.” She wrote Learning is #1 on the board. “So, what conditions allow you to learn? I’ll take notes while you discuss it.”

“I need to be able to concentrate,” said a boy in the second row.

“Yeah, it can’t be too loud,” added his neighbor.

“And people can’t be running around or distracting me,” piped up a girl in the back.

A kid in the front corner tentatively raised his hand. “Last year, someone in my class bullied me. When I worried about that, I couldn’t concentrate.”

“Hmm,” said Ms. Sneed, “that brings up a good point. Even though learning is number one, safety is even more important. If you aren’t safe – or even if you don’t feel safe – you can’t learn.

“What other things prevent you from learning?”

“Well, if people are touching my stuff – or they are touching me – I can’t learn,” said the boy in the second row.

“Good point. People need to be respectful,” said Ms. Sneed.

A small girl with pigtails suddenly looked up. “I don’t like it if someone laughs at my comments or argues during group either.”

“Okay, these are some great points,” remarked their teacher. “Let’s review what we have so far. Everyone needs to be safe, respected, able to attend and concentrate.”

Many heads nodded in agreement. Their new teacher had summarized it well.

Wondering how to establish classroom rules that actually work? Begin with kids' criteria for a safe room that's conducive to learning.
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2. Turn Inward

“It appears to me,” Ms. Sneed continued, “that these are all things that others do to keep you from learning. What about you? What are some things you do that keep you from learning.”

The kids looked a little sheepish. Finally, a boy in a flannel shirt had the courage to speak up. “Sometimes I talk to my neighbor.”

“And sometimes I don’t pay attention,” said the kid in front of him. “I mean, maybe I’m playing with something in my desk or just zoning out.”

Another child spoke up. “Um, unfortunately, I don’t always follow directions.”

“Ahh,” said Ms. Sneed. “Let’s keep these things in mind as we establish classroom rules.”

3. Establish Classroom Rules

As she spoke, the teacher paced through the aisles. “You may find my classroom rules a little different than other teachers. I like the list to be short and broad. In other words, I’d like to have a few rules that cover a lot of ground. Things that keep you safe and learning.

“Let’s make a list.” Again, Ms. Sneed took notes.

“Well,” began the talkative boy in the back, ” I guess we need to pay attention and follow directions. We just said that.”

“Yeah, and be respectful,” said a girl wearing a Cubs t-shirt. “Not only to the teacher. Also to one another. When I’m in a group, I can’t learn when people are playing around or fighting or not sharing in the work.”

“Alright, this looks pretty good,” said Ms. Sneed. “Let’s test it. If everyone does these things, will everyone be safe and learning?”

“I think we’re missing something,” whispered a shy boy. “After all, if kids are rowdy, they could get hurt.”

“Okay, I’ll add one more thing – Be orderly,” said their teacher.

Then she displayed the list for all to see. Fortunately, no one squirmed. A few actually smiled.

“Doable?” Ms. Sneed asked.

“Doable,” they responded.

Go for short, clear classroom rules like be orderly, be respectful, pay attention, and follow directions.

4. Explain the Consequences

“Now for the consequences,” Ms. Sneed said. “These will also be short and sweet. The first time you break classroom rules, I will write your name on the board. The second time you break a rule, I will put a check by your name. If you break a rule three times in one day, we’ll go to the phone and call your home. If no one is home, you will leave a message. Basically, you’ll just say that Ms. Sneed asked you to call home because you were having a bad day. Any questions?”

Everyone looked stunned. Their other teachers had made them stand on the wall at recess or go to the office. They never called home.

“Don’t worry,” said Ms. Sneed. “Calling home is very, very rare. Once kids get a check, they don’t break any more rules.

“Oh! And I almost forgot. We have rewards for positive behavior too. Every time I catch the class doing what they’re supposed to be doing, I give a point. Once we get 15 points, we go outside for an extra 15 minutes of recess.”

Everyone cheered.

Yes, You Can Establish Classroom Rules That Work

With the right focus, you can set effective classroom rules. Keep your eye on learning (and safety!) then forge consequences that get the job done. When you have a difficult student, keep records, ask for help, and make a plan. All of this brings order to your teaching life. Therefore, every day will be brighter.

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