In nearly every situation in life, spoken and unspoken rules guide how we interact with and treat other people. As friends and colleagues, for example, we expect consideration and respect from one another. As neighbors we share expectations about such things as noise and how and where we park our cars. Generally we try to observe other rules of common courtesy.
In many situations, the societal rules for our interactions with one another are unspoken. For example, most movie theaters don’t have a posted list of rules for waiting in line, but the unspoken rules are clear: After you buy your ticket, go to the end of the line of people waiting to get into the theater; don’t cut in line even if you see someone you know; and don’t shove or push to get into the theater. Whether spoken or unspoken, one easy way to think about overall expectations for behavior is the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Rules and procedures for general classroom behavior deal with the broad areas of respect and courtesy as well as more specific issues, such as listening to the teacher or to classmates who are speaking, and being in the assigned seat when class begins. In some classrooms, teachers involve students in establishing overall class rules for conduct. Involving students helps to build their buy-in and responsibility for the overall environment of the classroom.
Recommendations for Classroom Practice
Establishing rules and shared expectations for general conduct helps to lay a solid foundation for effective classroom management. In this module, we discuss the following specific strategies:
- Writing a class pledge or promise
- Establishing overall classroom rules and procedures
- Consistently reinforcing norms
Regardless of the set of rules or expectations developed, it’s important to post them in a visible place in the classroom — for example, on the classroom door, on the wall near the clock, or on a cabinet door. These reminders, which students can easily refer to throughout the day, help students adhere to shared rules.
Writing a Class Pledge or Promise
Many effective teachers involve students in writing a class pledge or promise. This strategy helps create a shared sense of responsibility for the classroom, respect for self and others, and an overall culture of learning. It also is a great way to reinforce students’ responsibility for the management of the classroom, as the example below illustrates.
Asking students to sign the pledge further reinforces student buy-in and responsibility. A class promise can also be communicated in other forms—for example, through a poem such as shown below.
Establishing Overall Classroom Rules and Procedures
In addition to—or in place of—a class pledge or promise, some teachers establish a few briefly worded rules for general classroom behavior. In general, classroom rules deal with respect, politeness, and consideration, but other general rules also help keep the classroom safe and more conducive to learning.
Many teachers engage their students in establishing overall classroom rules and procedures. For example, you might facilitate a discussion at the beginning of the year about when it is appropriate and not appropriate for students to leave their seats, emphasizing the importance of demonstrating politeness and respect for others. Such a discussion typically involves identifying expected behaviors and procedures for using the pencil sharpener, getting resources and materials from central places in the room, returning materials to shelves, and conferring with other students sitting across the room.
Although there are, of course, some common overall rules that elementary and secondary teachers should establish, rules also vary depending on the age and grade level of students. For example, many elementary school teachers assign specific seats for their students at the beginning of the year. At the secondary level, however, teachers frequently let students sit where they choose as long as their seating choice does not interfere with their learning. Allowing students to choose their own place in the classroom is a sign of respect for their maturity. Students also appreciate this approach, which helps build their support for rules and procedures set by the teacher.
In addition to general rules for classroom behavior, some teachers create graphics or posters that emphasize the importance of character or specific personal characteristics, such as honesty, integrity, or respect, as shown in this picture.
For general classroom procedures, you can establish simple gestures or symbols to communicate basic messages in the classroom. Here are some examples:
- Raised hand. Raise your hand to signal that it’s time to be quiet and pay attention. Students raise their hands as they stop talking and look at you.
- Hands over ears. Put your hands over your ears to signal that group work has become too noisy, or quietly walk over and flick the overhead lights on and off.
- Raised book or pencil. A student holds up a book or a pencil to signal that he needs help — for example, during study time.
One common situation in which the raised-hand technique can be used is the school assembly. The principal raises her hand to quiet the room; teachers encourage quiet by being the first to raise their hands, stop talking, and turn their attention to the principal. Students learn to notice that adults’ hands are raised, and then they stop talking and put their hands up, too. Used consistently, this approach catches on and the room becomes quiet more quickly. This technique is a respectful way to bring a large group to order without raising voices.
In addition to broad rules for conduct, many teachers also set rules for more specific behaviors, such as listening, or for bully-proofing the classroom. As with other rules, you should post these in a visible place in the classroom and consider adding symbols or drawings to make them easier for students to remember, as shown in these images.
Consistently Reinforcing Norms
Regardless of the specific rules or procedures established for general classroom behavior, it’s important to follow through consistently and to reinforce these norms. You can do this in a variety of ways. Here are some specific suggestions:
- Model the procedures for students, or ask students to participate in modeling.
- Provide time for students to talk or write about why rules and procedures for general classroom behavior might be important and useful.
- Provide feedback to students about the extent to which they are following the rules and procedures so they can refine, improve, or correct their behavior.
Adapted from “Handbook for Classroom Management that Works” by Robert Marzano