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.”