Geoff Petty brilliantly said, “Good teachers don’t deal with problems, they prevent them from occurring.” What amazed me about this quotation is that it gave considerable thought to every seasoned teacher’s class I attended as a student. The teacher never had to spend too much of their energy in dealing with routine issues in the class.
And the reason for that is they have certain rules and procedures for students in the class. Don’t take college students into account just yet, they are sensible people, and know the purpose of their presence in the class but when we talk about middle school, that’s where teachers start losing their sleep on the problems in the class.
Rules and procedures are strong words and pose the dominance of the imposer but in reality they are here for discipline in any setting. Imagine why we have rules at work places, dress codes, time to arrive and leave, hierarchies, all these things combine to create a disciplined environment where everyone knows the appropriate way to perform simple actions. The concept remains pretty simple and similar in educational environments but the rules are flexible and teachers have all the control over how to enforce them. Ground rules are fundamental to order in the classroom, and order in the classroom is essential if effective teaching and learning are to take place. Here we will consider how to prevent problems from occurring through the establishment of appropriate classroom rules.
You can simply tell the learners what the rules are – you have complete control in this case, they are YOUR rules and it is your responsibility to enforce them. By letting them decide the rules learners have a greater commitment to keeping them. This latter approach sounds good, but it’s likely that the rules won’t meet your perceived needs: words like ‘silent’ and ‘respect’ and ‘on-time’ might be missing!
Better that Rules are agreed between teacher and learners, and best that they are established ‘up front’. The age, maturity, size and purpose of the group are important in this regard: ‘no mobile phones’ might be less appropriate in a class room of six year olds, than it is in upper grades, students of age 16 plus, for example.
Every teacher wants to have a smoothly running classroom, but that’s difficult to achieve when you don’t know where to start. As a new teacher, you might be feeling as though you’re groping around half blindfolded, with only bits and pieces of information, rather than the whole picture. What you need is a vision of what you want your classroom to look like as a positive learning environment. Then you need to take that vision and use the first day of school to lay the groundwork for making it a reality.
Rules then are about establishing a respectful atmosphere appropriate to learning – the major problem being that we live in a society where the individual is lauded above society, and it’s all about me, me, me. Respect is a character trait in sad decline in the West, and it’s interesting to read reports of higher academic achievement coming out of schools in countries / societies where respect for others, the older generation in particular, is the norm.
Agreeing to the rules together can be used as a good introductory activity with a new group. Writing them up keeps them to handy for frequent referral, and writing them down helps fix them in the learners heads. A well balanced and mutually agreed set of ground rules should enable the teacher to prevent problems occurring in their classroom.
The very essence of having simple rules like how to ask a question, how to disagree with your peer if you have alternate opinions on something that is being discussed in the class, how to get yourself excused if you have emergency, and why you should keep your phones off if you cannot turn them off, they should be on silent.
These simple rules create an environment where teachers and learners have respect for each other, they develop a habit of clearly thinking before their words leave their mouth. Generally we see students being rebellious towards rules in a class room and it’s only natural, at their age, being in someone else’s control is the last thing they want to experience. it’s up to teachers to find a way to harness their energy and to maintain the decorum of their class.
Rules should be simple, and easy to remember; they should be written up in big letters on a classroom poster, to remind students; and they should be written down as the class discusses what they understand by each, and are thus ’embedded’ in each brain as they are accepted by every member of the class.
Moving forward we are going to discuss a list of procedures with brief details, remember these are not all, but the most important procedures.
Number 1: Bathroom & Water Fountain Procedures
It’s inevitable. Kids have to use the bathroom and get drinks of water frequently throughout the day. This can be disastrous if there is not a proper procedure associated with the process.
During the first week of school, explain the bathroom and water fountain rules. Explain to students the procedure for asking the teacher to go, times that are appropriate to go and times that are inappropriate to go, and expected behavior at both locations.
These procedures should be taught as early as possible to start the trend of expected behavior.
Number 2: Behavior Management System
One of the most important things to teach children the first week of school is the classroom behavior management system and expectations.
Each teacher has a unique behavior management system and expectations for what is acceptable classroom behavior. Whatever your strategy is for managing student behavior, it is important to start it as soon as possible in order to maintain an orderly classroom.
Some teachers like to use green, yellow, and red cards where kids have to change their cards for certain misbehaviors. Other classroom management systems include clipping up and down depending on positive or negative behavior or earning points on an individual point sheet.
In addition to these individual classroom management techniques, it is also important to explain any group reward systems you have, such as table points or a “teachers vs. students” game.
While introducing the reward side of the system is important and a fun way to engage students, you also need to very clearly explain the expectations and consequences for your classroom.
Number 3: Line Procedures
Lining up is a procedure that happens multiple times a day. Between specials, lunch, recess, and dismissal, students spend a lot of time lining up.
Teach this procedure the first day of school so that students know what to do. Then practice, practice, practice that first week to help students develop good habits.
Before the year begins, consider whether you plan to establish a line order. If you’ve had trouble with line behavior in the past or want to avoid any potential issues with students fighting over where they stand, this is a good solution.
Lining up the kids in set spots, typically in alphabetic order, is a good way to keep order in the line. This will prevent kids form fighting over spots in line and pushing to be the line leader or next to their friends.
Spend a few extra minutes on line up procedures the first few days of school. While it takes time, by practicing these procedures early and often, you can make transitions easier for the rest of the school year.
Number 4: Morning Work Procedures
Morning work sets the tone for each school day, especially if students arrive at a variety of different times.
As students come in and unpack, you need some sort of task to get them focused for a day of learning. You might decide to use this time for silent reading or use it as a chance to do some spiral review for language arts or math.
Regardless of what you decide, it is important that you use this time to set the tone for the day. If you start the day with activities that create chaos, you can expect that chaos will trickle over into the rest of the day’s learning.
During the first week of school, you set the tone. Teach students specifically what is expected upon arrival and reinforce your expectations daily.
While your first day activities will likely look different, you can take time later that afternoon to teach the expected morning routine, and get started as early as day 2. This can help build a routine that can carry your students through the whole school year.
Number 5: Supply Procedures
Crayons, paper, notebooks, rulers, oh my!! Supplies are a huge part of the school day. That’s why it is so important to have a well-planned system for how students will manage these tools.
It is important that you establish supply rules and procedures to ensure a smooth process of using and accessing supplies. For example, you’ll want to decide how many pencils students will keep at their desk vs. how many you’ll store and hand out as needed. In case you’re wondering, 3-5 pencils typically works well for older students. You can bump that down to 2 pencils for younger kiddos, as they tend to get lost more easily.
Think about how you’ll manage sharpening pencils. Can students just walk up and sharpen their pencils or can it only be used during certain times?
Alternatively, you might consider having pencil sharpening be a classroom job. In that case, as their pencils become dull, have a “dull” pencil box that they can place their old pencils in and a “sharp” pencil box where they can grab a new sharp pencil.
At the end of each day, your pencil sharpener volunteer can take care of the dull pencils and have them ready for the next day. This prevents students from loudly sharpening their pencils during lessons and gives them quick access to sharp pencils when needed. Create similar procedures about the various other supplies used during the school day.