Examples of classroom rules that you find online or in books almost always recommend too many… way too many. After several years of teaching, I can confidently state the following:
Classroom rules don't hurt a bit, but they aren't necessary for a strong, effective classroom community.
A figure of authority (that's you!) who continually sets consistent expectations and holds kids accountable doesn't need a list of rules on the wall to point to when behavior becomes a problem.
The classroom routines you establish will soon become behavior norms that the students follow without needing to refer to a wall poster.
But kids often expect to set some rules, especially on the first day of school, and some building principals want rules in place, so here's how to make them work for you.
Rules about rules
Don't confuse rules with expectations. Your class will come to know that you have MANY expectations, from how to put books away to the proper way to line up for lunch.
There is no need to reduce all of these to rules. So “put the books away in the right place” is really incorporated in the rule “keep the classroom organized.”
But really… even keeping the classroom organized is an expectation, just a broader one the kids pick up on as they learn your classroom routines and how to do things the way you expect. Think even bigger – or guide the kids to think bigger – if they are brainstorming ideas for rules.
If the kids are setting the rules, guide them very carefully, and set the expectation up front that you will only have a set number.
Keep them positive
Any rule should be written as a positive expression. For example, if a student suggests:
“We won't be mean.”
… it should be turned around to say:
“We will be kind and respectful.”
That positive spin is what you are looking for in the outlook of your entire class in all areas, so it's a really a good idea to have your rules reflect that.
The number one rule
So what is my number-one, all-you-really-need rule? The one I guide kids to year after year? Here it is:
It's my boiled-down summary of all the best classroom rules I've tried, based on various classroom management systems.
Broad. All-encompassing. Easy to remember. Perfect.
Everything else fits under its umbrella, even something like “no cell phones in the classroom.” The best classroom management tips are usually based on the simplest approach.
Now just put the rule or rules that you come up with on the bulletin board or white board for all to see, and then refer to it as needed.
My permanent classroom rule
But wait… when it comes to classroom rules, I must admit that I do have a permanent one that I dictate every year. In fact, I have it on a large poster that I never take down. Here it is:
Do you see the difference between “try something” and all the other possibilities we have talked about?
Most rules are focused on behavior. We just naturally think in terms of getting in or not getting in trouble when someone says the word “rules.”
But “try something” is a rule aimed at learning, at pushing oneself to become a better student, at working toward mastery. It is aimed at the very reason kids are in school – to become effective, independent thinkers.
It establishes my expectation that kids work their little brains hard to noodle through a problem before they raise their hand for assistance.