Rules and Routines in the Classroom
My mistake: I permitted pupils to chew gum in class. I’m sorry. Why? Because I had gum in my mouth. Gum is beneficial for me because I have a dry throat that becomes worse after mid-morning.
What it comes down to is that if you set a rule, you must follow it yourself, or else the kids will question you and worse, they will lose respect for you. You’re not permitted to bring food into the classroom, but you eat a blueberry scone in the middle of class every morning? I gained knowledge through trial and error. The benefit of working with 16- and 17-year-olds is that they aren’t afraid to express their thoughts and feelings. Being a role model for what we expect might be unpleasant and exhausting at times, but it is part of the job description.
Regulations have repercussions, and routines are accompanied by reminders. I found that fewer regulations and many, many more routines and procedures helped me to be more productive.
Once a rule is established, it must be followed to the letter. Students might anticipate receiving a warning, a second warning, and eventually a consequence for their actions. A rule cannot be treated as if it were a routine at any point in time. We can’t say, “I reminded you yesterday about being on time,” if being on time is a classroom rule. Instead, we must state, “This is a warning, and a consequence will follow.” Then, if they are two seconds late to work two days later, there must be a repercussion.
All of the other kids are keeping an eye on things and anticipating the outcome. Unless we simply sigh, shake our heads, and let it slip, pupils will not regard being on time as a standard practise. We must be selective in our selection of the small number of regulations that will be enforced since they will be required to be followed.
CHOOSING ROUTINES TO EMPHASIZE
There will be procedures and routines that will only take a few seconds to go over, as well as others that will take a little more time. The ones that necessitate extra work in terms of explanation and modelling are frequently those that are on the verge of becoming rules, such as getting out of your seat.
When planning for moving out of one’s seat, consider all possibilities, including sharpening a pencil, getting supplies or a tissue, and turning in work, among others. “If you’re up, you’re on a mission,” I used to tell my pupils, which beautifully frames the situation: If you notice a student strolling around the room or stopping at a classmate’s desk for an off-topic conversation, inquire as to “What is your assignment?” This serves as a subtle reminder of the importance of being on time. The operative term here is “reminder”—a punishment isn’t necessary in this type of situation.
The number of routines and processes you have isn’t really a constraint, but you’ll want to make sure that each one is understood by every student in your room before adding more.
Be it a regulation or a habit, children must understand what it looks like and why it exists from the beginning. It will be necessary to provide multiple examples of what “respect to everyone” looks like—and what it does not seem like—if the rule is broad and all-encompassing, such as “be polite to all.”
Make a list of examples with the class and then add a couple of your own. The following are some of the topics we expect students to bring up: no name-calling or putdowns, and keep your hands to yourselves. However, students usually come up with ideas that go above and beyond what we can envision, so it’s critical that they are included in this process. It facilitates a more in-depth comprehension of the rules for the class as a whole.
Every time we make the decision to include kids in the decision-making or discovery process in the classroom, the process takes significantly longer than usual. We’re frequently tempted to simply provide them with the information. However, working together to look at samples of what the rules and routines look like offers children a sense of ownership over their agreements, which will pay off over the entire school year.
THE ULTIMATE GOAL
It goes without saying that the ultimate purpose of education is not to enforce rules and routines, but rather to teach effectively. And when teachers get together, we spend the majority of our time discussing good teaching rather than classroom management. When we are effective, the vast majority of students are learning and receiving what they require, goals and objectives are met, and we as instructors have a tremendous sense of pride and satisfaction.
Here’s a quick quiz to see how effective you are in teaching others. Originally written by education author and public speaker Harry Wong, whose book The First Days of School is a well-known resource in our field, providing excellent strategies for teaching effectively and for establishing structures and a sense of community in a classroom at the start of the school year.