Classroom Management: Who Makes the Rules?

In response to my article on Making Classroom Rules, Cami asks,

Should the teachers make the rules, or should it be a collaborative thing between the teachers and the students?

I love this question.  As always, this is my personal opinion and what works for me.  While there are many opportunities throughout the year when I involve my first and second grade students in decision making and setting standards and consequences for behavior, I believe that when students  come in on day one, the rules are already set.

My class rules are:  1. Be polite.  2. Listen and follow directions.  3.  Make good use of your time.

These are posted and I do expect students to know them and have them memorized.  If your students can’t tell you what your rules are, then what good are they?   There’s nothing remarkable about my rules but it took me a few years to iron them out.  I think these are the only rules in the classroom and everything else is a procedure.

For example, “Don’t hit” isn’t a rule, it’s something that’s done as a result of following “Be polite.”

“Make good use of your time.” isn’t like don’t get up and don’t talk to your neighbor, it simply requires that you use your time in the classroom well.  If you need to solve a problem by getting up or talking to your neighbor, then that’s following the rule.

If given a chance, I suspect that students might get to the general idea of my rules though they would likely be less precise.  So why don’t I have students create those?

  • As a matter of classroom management, I get a group of squirrely first graders entering my classroom on a Monday (after being in kindergarten the previous Friday) and I’m expecting them to sit still while we iron out our classroom rules?  Everything on that first day is quick and deliberate so that I don’t lose them.  As I’ve always had a majority of English Language Learners and I don’t know yet how much English they know, it seems better to discuss what our class rules mean than to implant the vocabulary necessary to create our own.
  • Comfort and security.  While some see rules as oppressive, I see my own rules as setting up clear and safe boundaries in my classroom from moment one.  I want my students to feel safe and be able to keep to those rules from our first walk around the room.
  • It’s disingenuous.  I suspect that some teachers have students “create” the rules but really only take suggestions and mold them into the class rules they wanted in the first place.  What’s the point of that?  It takes much longer and students might immediately get the message that you really don’t want their opinion if you reject their suggestions.
  • Who’s in charge?  Students will have many opportunities to have input on class activities.  But about those three rules…they’re non-negotiable.  Those are the rules.  There’s no negotiating and I do want students to know that on day one.

I hope to hear from some teachers who create their own rules.  I know of several who do and are great teachers.  I have nothing against it.  However, I wonder if it really adds to the success of a classroom.  I know that the thinking is that if students have a part in creating the rules, they’re likelier to follow them.  I wish it was that easy.  I just don’t see it.  Whatever your rules are, 90% of your students will likely follow them.  The 10% who don’t follow rules probably won’t follow rules set by you or set by other classmates without training and your consistency in enforcing them.

Tomorrow’s post is about my classroom management “system.”

9 Responses to “Classroom Management: Who Makes the Rules?”

  1. sparrow Says:

    My rules…Be prepared, Act Appropriately.

    My strong suggestion…Do your best.

  2. eiela Says:

    I had only one rule as a classroom teacher: Respect. With 7th graders, we had a pretty long discussion about whether or not certain actions were respectful. (For example, not running fell under being respectful of others & yourself, because you could hurt people by running into them, etc). I never let the kids make up the rules, because that seemed like a huge waste of time to me. I have let them help me write procedures, both with 7th graders and with my elementary kids in the library now. Like, “GUys, this isn’t working–do we need to come up with a procedure for putting away crayons?”

  3. Cami Says:

    Hi Matthew,
    Thanks for your post in response to my question.
    You bring up, yet again, some good points.
    As I am only a pre-service teacher, I have no experience in setting classroom rules, so I’m just trying to amass all sorts of information about what others are doing.

    I do agree that at the younger levels it would be challenging to have the students create the rules, and they would obviously try to manipulate the rules to turn them into a fun day or something that appeals to them.
    However, I think (keyword = think) that at the upper elementary levels and even the high school level it is important for students to take responsibility and this way, if they do not follow the rules, the teacher always has the opportunity to turn around and point out to the students that they are not following the rules that they themselves set.

    I also feel that it is a trial and error thing, and obviously if it doesn`t work, the teacher has the right and moreover the responsibility to change the rules to make sure that the students do feel safe.

    Thanks again for your reply, and I’m looking forward to your next post about your classroom management system!

  4. Mathew Says:

    Hi Cami,

    Thanks for stopping by. I agree that with older students it can work out to involve them more in developing rules, particularly in middle and high school. Just to be clear, I don’t think that younger students would try to manipulate the rules, just that they don’t yet have the language or reasoning to develop the best rules. Also, the process of creating rules for a five year old is not a very engaging first day of school activity.

  5. Bonnie Says:

    I wholeheartedly agree. Classroom rules provide for the emotional and physical safety of all students which it is the teacher’s responsibility to ensure. There are many opportunities to empower students and show appreciation for their input, but rules should be presented and practiced from day one!

    Echoing eiela’s comment, with 4th and 5th grade students I like to focus on developing a climate of RESPECT. No rules, per se, just a requirement that all students respect their teachers, their classmates, their materials, and themselves! Respect

  6. Mary Ann Says:

    I also have set rules for my students on day one:

    1. Be nice.
    2. Work hard.

    I taught primarily upper grades, and on the first day of school we’d do a t-chart on what these rules look like and sound like. If there was questionable behavior, we’d go to the t-chart and decide if it belonged with the other behaviors we’d discussed.

    I’m also not one to use a complicated system for classroom management, although my husband just thinks I’m an excellent manipulator. I try to make hard work and a pleasant class its own reward for the kids, and that means planning instruction that meets their needs in a fun, motivating way.

  7. Steven Kimmi Says:

    Coming into my 4th year teaching overall and 5th grade, I have become less and less, I don’t even know how to say it, rule-centered? On day one we discuss expectations, but this year I didn’t even really post them. I offer several reminders and definitely set expectations during lessons and whatnot often. And I have to say, I have not seen much behavioral change from previous years. Here are my thoughts, and I explain these to the kids, this is their sixth year in school, they know the rules for behavior in school, now they might choose to ignore them, but they know what is acceptable and what is not.

    If I were to post rules, as I have in the past, they would be similar to Mat’s, more of “what to do” and very little of “what not to do”. Are students ever a part of that rule-making? Yes. My first year, inner-city neighborhood school I started a bulletin board of words inappropriate for use at school. Next to each word were a number of replacements taht students could use. As I would hear them say things like “this sucks” and the like, we’d add them to the board and figure out how to convey emotion, speak intelligently, and be appropriate.

  8. Jim McGuire Says:

    I was going to comment, and then I read Mary Ann’s comment. She wrote exactly what I had in mind. And, her rules are identical to mine:

    1. Work hard
    2. Be nice to people

    I think everyone has to find their own way. Your rules and class climate reflect your personality and how you interact with students.

    I never really found that a bunch of rules helped with classroom management and discipline. Building a good rapport with students and trying to keep class interesting seems to work better for me.

  9. Clix Says:

    Mine are very close to some of the others posted, but not quite the same, and there’s reason for that.

    1. Work hard.
    2. Be kind.
    3. Follow directions.

    My students are at an age (10th grade) where they can say, “oh, but Ms Clix, I’m working really hard” on their math homework (I teach language arts). So I added the last one, which also covers school rules that don’t fit under the first two – they’re not supposed to use personal electronic devices in class, etc.

    One thing I need to emphasize more to the students – I’m adding this to Evernote now – is that these rules apply to everyone in the room: students, teacher, and any visitors.

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