Just-Right Classroom Rules Can Create a Positive Learning Environment

One of the most important tasks to accomplish at the start of a school year is developing a workable set of classroom rules that provide guidelines for acceptable behavior and protect your right to teach and your students’ right to learn. Rules also send the message that good behavior is important and that you expect students to work productively. Students of all ages benefit from the guidance these rules provide in establishing a tone of mutual respect, trust and cooperation. When creating rules for your classroom, you should follow three guidelines to ensure their success. The rules should be:

  • Stated in positive terms;
  • General enough to cover a broad range of student activity; and
  • Easy for students to remember.

When you create a set of age-appropriate rules for your students, you establish a common language for discussing expectations for good behavior. Here is a step-by-step approach to help you create workable classroom rules:

Step One: Determine what areas your rules will cover. Begin by asking yourself these questions:

  • What are some behaviors that make it possible for students to succeed?
  • What are some behaviors that make it difficult for students to succeed?
  • What limits can I set to guarantee that all students have the right to learn?

Step Two: Draft a rough set of rules. After you have determined the areas your rules should cover, write a rough draft. At this point, you may want to show your rules to a colleague to make sure they are in line with school rules and appropriate to the age and ability of your students.

Step Three: State classroom rules positively. Take your rough draft and change the wording as needed to state all of your rules in positive terms, conveying a tone of mutual respect and consideration.

Step Four: Make the rules easy to remember. Can you combine any of your rules to cover a general range of student behavior? For example, you could combine “Bring your textbook every day” and “You will need paper and pens in this class” to read “Bring the materials you will need for class.” Your students will also find it easier to recall your class rules if you only have a few.

Many experienced teachers recommend having about five rules for middle school and secondary students; reduce the number for younger students. If you are not sure your classroom rules will work, here are several rules that experienced teachers have used successfully. Adapt them to meet the needs of your students.

  • Use class time wisely.
  • Do your work well.
  • Treat other people with respect.
  • Follow school rules.
  • Bring your materials to class every day.

Here is a quick checklist you can use to determine if your rules will be effective. Place a checkmark in front of each statement that applies; the more marks you have, the more likely your classroom rules will be successful.

To be effective, classroom rules must:

  1. ____Be easy to remember
  2. ____Create an orderly classroom
  3. ____Fit within a school district’s policies for student behavior
  4. ____Be stated so that students understand them
  5. ____Be enforceable
  6. ____Be as fair to as many students as possible
  7. ____Satisfy the parents and guardians of your students

You can help your students understand the importance of following their class rules by spending time teaching them the expectations that you have for following classroom rules. Teaching appropriate behavior is not something you can complete in one class period; rather, it is a process that will last the entire year. It is better to spend a few minutes each day or week with mini-lessons on various aspects of your rules than to spend an hour early in the term and then ignore them the rest of the year.

If you can incorporate the following strategies into your daily lessons, the time you spend teaching class rules will save you precious instructional time later.

  • Post a letter about your classroom rules on your class web page or send a copy home with your students, thus enlisting the support of parents and guardians.
  • Post a copy of the rules in a prominent spot to serve as a quick reminder for everyone in the class.
  • Although teaching classroom rules is a process that will last all term, you should focus on teaching them during the first three weeks of the term so that your students will know you are serious about establishing a positive classroom climate. Revisiting the rules periodically will reinforce this early teaching.
  • When you are ready to talk about rules with your students, don’t try to bluff your way through a brief presentation. Instead, present your rules in a dynamic lesson. Try some of these activities to make the lesson interesting:
    • Place students in groups. Have some groups brainstorm reasons why everyone should follow various rules; ask other groups to list what could happen if no one followed a rule.
    • Have students write the rules in their notebooks. Ask them to see whether they can improve the wording of a rule or whether they can create examples to explain each one.
    • Ask students to explain the rules to you in their own words.