When I was elementary school, some of my classmates would tout the motto, “Rules are made to be broken,” right before doing something they shouldn’t do. Depending on the rule they were breaking, I would sometimes nod my head in agreement.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized rules aren’t meant to be broken, even if they are frustrating at times.
For example, imagine if you’re already running late and have to stop at a red light at a deserted intersection. Even though it’s frustrating, I realize that having traffic lights helps decrease the number of car accidents. So, I stop at the red light anyway.
In schools, rules are meant to keep people safe and create a good environment for learning (even though some of them can feel like red lights at deserted intersections at times). But, as you’re creating your own classroom rules, it can be a daunting task. You want your students to be safe and be able to learn, but at the same time, you don’t want to be the Trunchbull from Matilda.
So, here’s some tips I learned from my Social/Behavioral Strategies class (CPSE 443) about creating effective class rules.
1. Have 3–5 rules for your class.
Any more than 3-5 rules and it’s really hard to keep track of all of them. You don’t want your students to feel like Charlie from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory who didn’t even know that he had broken a rule because there were so many rules in fine print.
See Charlie finding out about the fine print:
2. Use only positive language.
Don’t think of blue pancakes!
Honestly, what did you just think of? I know I thought of this:
When you state a rule using negative language, such as, “No running in the classroom” or “No talking when the teacher is talking,” it automatically puts that negative behavior in their heads. It also doesn’t tell them what they are supposed to do (or in the earlier example, what to think of besides blue pancakes).
Instead, if you use positive language, such as “Walk in the classroom,” or “Listen when the teacher is talking,” your students know exactly what is expected of them. It also doesn’t give them ideas of how to misbehave (they can do that on their own).
3. Use clear language.
C’est très important des règles sont clair donc tes étudients comprennent.
Unless you speak French, that probably made little to no sense. From reading that last sentence, you know that something is important, but past that, it’s hard to understand.
So, make sure the rules are written in language your students can understand.
If you’re an elementary school teacher, use words that make sense to your students (for example, using the word clamorous wouldn’t be a good idea). If you’re a secondary teacher, use words that are appropriate for their age group (for example, the word “potty” should not be included).
4. Make sure rules are observable and measurable.
Imagine it’s the first day of school and this is one of the rules, “Nice hands”. Automatically, you look down at the dirt smudged under your nails and take a deep gulp. You didn’t mean to break the rules. With eyes now glued to the floor, you don’t hear what this rule actually means and spend the rest of the day trying to hide your hands.
Contrast the rule “Nice hands” with “Keep your hands and feet to yourself”. Both rules are about the same target behavior. They are even both positively stated; however, one is observable and measurable, while the other is really vague.
Vague rules are hard to follow and hard to enforce. Do yourself a favor and stay away from the trap of vagueness.
5. Have specific positive and negative consequences attached to the rules.
Most of us are familiar with negative consequences at school, like detentions, suspensions, and expulsions. However, many people are not familiar with having specific positive consequences.
Can you imagine that if you got some kind of reward for following the rules, besides not getting in trouble?
It’s a powerful idea.
Positive consequences could look like earning five minutes free time at the end of the period, five minutes extra recess, earning a sticker, or many other ideas.
Just like you will always have more people at a meeting if you advertise that there will be refreshments, you will have more positive behavior if there’s some kind of positive consequence attached.
For more information about rules and consequences (both positive and negative) check out this website.