This ezine is a reminder to review the number of rules you expect students to comply with, how they are put into practice, and how effective they seem to b

The short introduction to this week’s ezine may well have already got you looking for the list of rules in place in your school or classroom. If this is the case, then perhaps this is proof enough that too many rules:

a) are hard to rememberb) are usually over-complicated

c) apply in one, or some, or all environments, making it very hard for some students to understand how to comply with such a wide variety of rules and boundaries. Or, indeed, give some students even more opportunities to question you!

Now that you have had time to reflect on the rules currently in place in your teaching and learning environment, take some more time to reflect on:

a) how the rules are presented to students: verbally? In written format? Illustrated? In the school prospectus? In home-school diaries?b) how often you refer to themc) whether you agree with all of themd) whether they have been discussed with your students

e) how they are linked to reward systems and any sanctions used.

Before going to the practical tips section later in this ezine, write out the rules you have in place at present without referring to any noticeboards in your classroom or the school prospectus.

How did you get on? Did you manage to remember them all? How many have you included in your list? If you currently have more than 10 rules and you did in fact manage to remember them all, you have done really well! Much better, probably, than most students would do given the same task. It is simply far too tempting to have a huge range of rules in place for every possible situation in school. The outcome of such a situation will be far too many rules and subsections to remember, many of which will be irrelevant and will also give members of staff a false, and possibly threatening, understanding of behaviour management.

When rules are in place, some students will follow them, while many students will question and challenge them, thus providing you with yet another problem to cope with. Far better to have fewer, but clearer rules, probably no more than four or five, with the emphasis on members of staff to clearly ‘teach’ all their instructions to students, ensuring understanding and involvement in the setting of expectations and boundaries in the class room.

Practical tips
So if there are to be as few rules as possible, how should they be worded and what should they emphasise? The first essential is for the wording to be easy to understand, clear and direct. Try to avoid comments such as ‘show respect’ and ‘be a good citizen’. These are difficult concepts for many students and what students believe to be respectful or good citizenship may be in total contrast to your interpretations! With explanation, these phrases may well be a part of the ethos of the educational establishment, but they perhaps should not be the basis of the key rules.

Far better to highlight clear and understandable points as the fundamental rules. ‘Follow teacher/adult instructions’ (you may like to add ‘first time given’) gives no room for misinterpretation and is therefore less likely to be the cause of questioning, misunderstanding or denial. With more careful consideration of such a rule, it could be said that there is no need for any others! This devolves all responsibility onto the teacher/adult to teach and explain their directions. It will eliminate the source of many challenges or confrontation, namely, assumptions.

If you display your rules and assume or expect that all students will fully understand them, you must expect challenge.

Use rules that are simple and non-negotiable, for example:

a) Follow instructions first time given.
b) Keep your hands to yourself.

You now have the responsibility of teaching all your directions. If your instruction is to ‘stop work, put your things away and leave the room ready for the next lesson,’ have you taught this instruction to all students? Your rule is to follow instructions, so don’t assume that everyone will understand and comply. Spend time teaching the many and varied requirements you have of all students, making it far easier for them to make that good choice and comply.

Try separating out all activities your students engage in. Most school-based activities will fit into the following categories:

a) independent, seated work (work-based activities, curriculum-/subject-based rules)b) general instructions (attracting your attention, entering rooms, corridor behaviour etc)

c) special events (visits, assembly etc).

To sum up:

  • Try to reduce the number of rules, while making the wording clear.
  • Take responsibility for teaching your expectations.
  • Reinforce your rules with positive recognition, especially in your verbal comments.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in November 2009

About the author: Dave Stott has nearly 30 years’ teaching experience including seven years as a headteacher. He has worked in mainstream and special schools and Local Authority Behaviour Support Services, and is now a writer, consultant and trainer.