Blog Post: “Creating Effective Classroom Rules and Procedures”
In your career as an educator, you will come across a variety of students, each with their own unique character. Some of these students will be perfect angels, some of these students will be devilish rascals, and most of them will fall somewhere in between. As a result, one question many educators ask is ‘how do I manage my class?’
Rules and procedures are meant to give students purpose and direction in their daily classroom experience and interactions. These guidelines should be demonstrated to students early on, to avoid misunderstandings later. Having contingency plans for positive and negative behavior is essential, because neglecting one in favor of the other will result in a lopsided class where students are either compelled to act out at one extreme or another. Be flexible and be prepared, and you should be able to come up a succinct set of rules that students can comprehend and obey without too much trouble.
Positive behavior should be noticed and rewarded. In one example class, the foremost request of students is that their hard work be acknowledged (Marzano). There are many successful strategies for presenting your students with positive reinforcement beyond praise. One such example is a reward system. These rewards can be anything from points, to tokens, to stickers. Classdojo.com is a website that allows teachers to keep track of their students online, and assign points for completed tasks and skills.
Besides tangible rewards, positive behavior can be encouraged by granting students privileges they would not have without demonstrating an ability to follow the rules. Such privileges might include helping to prepare lunch for everyone, being the first student to line up for recess, or choosing the book to read during story time. Granting privileges for consistent and reliable good behavior shows students how to act to obtain those privileges. When given haphazardly without regard to merit, they suggest a lack of direction or focus. “The student who is most quiet may line up first” seems more fair and achievable to kids than “You can line up first because you’re the first kid I noticed.”
Praise is the simplest and most common type of positive reinforcement. Recognizing accomplishments through verbal acknowledgement shows students that their presence in class is valued, and that their efforts matter. One concern is that students who are often praised will become lazy or unmotivated. Marzano says “early studies demonstrated that if you reward people for things they are already doing by their own volition, then they will begin to decrease their intrinsic motivation.” But studies also show that praise can yield positive results. Whether it is correlation or causation, students praised for their effort tend to work harder and seek strong solutions (Dweck). Either way, students will respond well to praise.
Inevitably, you will encounter students who break the rules in creative ways, and it is important to administer appropriate consequences gauged to the level of misbehavior. However, such situations can produce positive results if dealt with in a fashion that fosters growth, reflection, and correction. Robert Marzano of ‘The Art and Science of Teaching’ says that consequences don’t always need to be negative. You can turn a punishment or a warning into an experience that helps the student develop into a more socially aware member of the class (Marzano). In an example class, the students responded best to immediate action involving misbehavior, rather than delaying consequences.
Punishment and consequences don’t work when they are not doled out in equal measure. Disproportionate retribution shows that a teacher doesn’t have a handle on how they manage their class. When students see themselves punished while others committing the same offenses walk free, they will begin to develop a mindset where the class is unfair, and by that point punishments have lost meaning.
A better method for administering consequences for disruptive behavior is setting a uniform set of rules ahead of time, and defining the punishments for disobeying these rules once they have been established. You can alter degree of severity, or other factors, but showing your students that you are consistent is essential. Sending one kid to timeout and one kid back to play when they both kick each other during recess could make the child with the greater punishment resent you… or their classmate.
Personal Experiences: Positive Reinforcement
My own students are a diverse group of learners who each respond differently to rules and the consequences for breaking them. Until now, I have had an unwritten set of rules and procedures I use in the classroom to keep order. This involves a rewards system for good behavior, and a series of escalating punishments for bad behavior. See the flowchart for examples of how this system is implemented in my classroom.
Based on my personal experiences and the research I’ve done into positive reinforcement and behavior correction, I’ve found a style of behavior management that works for my students. As a class, whenever we enter a new situation, we review all of the rules associated with that situation in the beginning. Students are welcome to discuss the rules and ask questions. When students demonstrate their ability to follow those rules well, such as cleaning up their own messes and sharing with others, I will occasionally let them select stickers from the sticker box, or give them a treat to take home. Once, we all got temporary butterfly tattoos. In those cases, students didn’t know when rewards would be given, and therefore were encouraged to follow the rules at all times simply for the chance of possibly getting a prize.
However, pre-planned rewards systems are also effective. For example, when we had our first smoke and fire drill, the assistant teacher gave a two-day presentation on fire safety rules. After we reviewed the rules, students were told that they would receive stickers in the case of good behavior. Afterward, we participated in the exercise, and all students (there are only eight) received stickers. In another example, we were learning a new song and dance around ‘Who Took the Cookie from the Cookie Jar?’ Students were told that if they participated vigorously, they would receive real cookies to take home as snacks. Those students who wanted snacks performed with gusto, and their low-performing classmates joined in to imitate them.
The best rewards are given not out of a desire to placate, but for the purpose of reinforcing good behavior. In both cases, students were aware before the activity of what they needed to accomplish, and what reward they would gain if they followed the rules. The students used the procedures we covered to complete their tasks within the assigned guidelines, and saw their efforts were recognized with tangible prizes. They remain aware that, for future activities, there is a chance that good behavior will result in similar outcomes, and stay vigilant.
Personal Experiences: Misbehavior & Punishment
Of course, there have been times when I’ve had to deny students prizes, or punish them for disruptive behavior. These situations are often more difficult to handle, because they are often reactive situations where students have suddenly taken umbrage at something class-related. One student teases another, a student has an accident, or something bumps their head. When these situations result in classroom disruption, I am required to take action to diffuse them.
As seen on the flowchart, my reactions to students who misbehave differ depending on circumstance. Non-physical disturbances, such as yelling, playing around, and whispering in class are dealt with cooly, with verbal warnings and relocation if self-correction is nonviable. If the student cannot self-correct, or correct their actions with teacher intervention, then the next option is to remove them from the source of the bad behavior. For example, separating two friends who won’t stop chatting by placing them on opposite sides of the classroom.
From our class rules, students know violence is not tolerated in any way, nor is inappropriate touching. These acts result in stricter punishments, such as removal from class or parent conferences. When such an act is severe enough to grab the attention of all students, it is dealt with swiftly, at the cost of learning coming to a halt. Yet by acting decisively, students see that their teacher does not turn a blind eye to physical abuse. Other students reflect on receiving the same punishment for violence, while also safe in the knowledge that their teacher will come to their aid if they are a victim.
When my students do not clean up after themselves, they know that those toys they left out won’t be available to them for the rest of the day. Students know that if they hit, punch, push, or kick they will have to apologize to their classmates and go to timeout. They know if they try to talk over me during a lesson they will be relocated, first inside and then outside the classroom. This is because I have administered punitive measures like these over and over with consistency.
I had a pair of students who would argue over their favorite toy, and refuse to share. My initial attempts to mediate between them would last for a while, and then they would return to arguing. I then escalated the situation, removed the toys from their possession, and offered a choice: share the toy or have it removed from the learning area. The students came up with a successful strategy of taking turns with the toy, as opposed to losing all opportunity to play with it. This rule was incorporated into our classroom, and students now are given a verbal warning to share toys before they are removed for the remainder of the day. Aware of the penalty for non-compliance, most students will choose to either a) take turns or b) find a new activity to engage themselves.
Punishment cannot be the only step taken. Correction must be given to avoid recurring behavior. Whenever possible, I have a conversation with the misbehaving student about their actions and how they affect themselves and others. In language they can grasp, we discuss what they’ve done, why they’ve done it, and what they plan to do differently in the future. Sometimes, I will have the students involved complete an activity related to their offenses. Consequence in my classroom is never just to ignore the problem. I want my students to learn from their mistakes and change their behavior for the benefit of everyone in the class, teachers and students alike.
After several years of teaching, I have found some successful strategies for rewarding positive behavior, and for managing misbehavior. I will continue to utilize and improve the strategies I have mentioned in this article and on my flowchart. I use a variety of systems for managing and reinforcing positive behavior: rewards, privilege, and praise. Likewise, I use many problem-solving techniques to manage misbehavior and in-class disruptions. For positive reinforcement, fair and regular acknowledge of student achievement leads to a healthy and happy class culture, inspiring students to work well and take pride in their accomplishments. For discipline, I believe that escalation should be a gentle slope, not a sudden step, and that exhausting all possible options before moving to the extreme is better than doling out ultimatums and harsh punishments until they lose all meaning.
Although it may seem overwhelming, one of the best things you can do in these situations (positive and negative) is be consistent. Show them what they can expect from you, and your students will grow to trust in your judgement and authority. Give them the tools to follow your rules and surpass your expectations.
|Rules & Procedures Flowchart|
Marzano, R. J. (2007). The art and science of teaching: A comprehensive framework for effective instruction.
CM Mueller, CS Dweck - Journal of personality and social psychology, 1998