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Classroom Rules Revisited

Rules are made but too often broken.  Establishing classroom rules is a top to-do in the first week of class. It is not surprising to find a generic set of rules in any given classroom such as:

  1. Raise your hand to speak.

  2. Use kind words and actions.

  3. Listen quietly when others are speaking.

  4. Use inside voices in the classroom.

  5. Keep your hands and your feet to yourself.

But what happens when rules don’t work and you find your head spinning and the children out of control? You might be looking for the nearest corner to give yourself a “time out”.


When rules are consistently broken, is it because they are not being enforced, or they just don’t work?

First if the teacher fails to enforce the rules consistently and with fair and appropriate consequences then rules will be broken.  The solution here is simple, take time to revisit the rules, discuss with your students the meaning of the rules and how they support their classroom community. Take a few minutes to model each of the rules and what happens if they are broken.  Teacher: “Johnny do you know why we need to use inside voices when we are inside the classroom?” Johnny: “yes teacher it is so the students can pay attention.” Teacher: Thanks Johnny I knew you remembered why .  Next time you yell you will lose five minutes of free time at workshop this week to think about your actions.”

The goal here is to empower the student to think about their actions and why they should follow the rules.  Also you remind the student of the consequences.  If the rule is broken again Johnny will have a consequence as a result of his action.  This allows the teacher to remain emotionally objective.  The student is responsible for their actions.

Second if the rules are consistently being broken it is important to think if perhaps the rules just don’t work.  From a developmental perspective children are moving into different stages of cognitive development during elementary, middle and high school.

Piaget Stages of Development

Children in Kinder and first may be moving from the Preoperational to the Concrete operational stage of development.  So what does that mean for classroom rules? In the Preoperational stage their is a focus on pretend play, egocentric thinking and language development.  Students here really need an opportunity to act out rules and make meaning of the rules in their own language.  “Come to class prepared” does not tell the student what they need to do or how they should enter the classroom.  Rather the student needs explicit instruction on what prepared means. “Come to class everyday with your homework.”

When revisiting the rules it is important to think about what problems exist in your classroom that you wish to be resolved.  If students in your 6th grade class are always asking to use the bathroom pass during your class, consistently show up to class late and leave the classroom dirty before they leave. Then it is time to rewrite your rules with clear explicit language that would support the rules and procedures you want your students to enforce.  Students in middle school are between the concrete operation and formal operational stages.  That means they are able to think abstractly and make judgments.  There is no reason to act out,  or hypothesize what will happen if they take twenty minutes to use the bathroom in a fifty minute period.  At this point set the rule, and follow up with the consequence. Students will be given a total of four bathroom passes a semester if the students uses more than the allotted breaks then there will be a consequence such as letter to parents and loss of class privilege. Be firm and fair but most of all consistent.


About Dr. Dickenson

I am an assistant professor of Teacher Education at National University in San Jose.


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