Do We Need Classroom Rules?

I posted recently that I don’t have a set of class rules, and a responder wondered how I go without rules.

This may sound overly simple, but I tell my (high school) students that I only create rules if we need to have them. We only have them in my classes if students can’t respect one another and me.

For me, everything revolves around trust. At the beginning of the semester I work on relationship building since these bonds will make the class more successful over time. Once I establish a rapport and establish a relationship with students, things move along rather swimmingly.

In general, I attempt to deal with behavior issues on a one to one basis. I often use phrasings like “I know you’re better than this” or “I know you aren’t really acting like yourself” or things like that and then may start asking questions about why the student is behaving a certain way, possibly finishing with a technique called the “5 Why Questions.” A typical conversation might go this way:

Me: Why are you here?

Student: Because I have to take this class.

Me: Why do you have to take this class?

Student: ‘Cause it’s required to graduate.

Me: Why do you want to graduate?

Student: ‘Cause I want to get a good job.

Me: Why do you want a good job?

Student: ‘Cause I want to make money.

Me: Why do you want to make money?

Student: ‘Cause I want to buy stuff, and I want and to take care of my family.

Me: That’s your goal. That’s the dream. This class is not what you’re after–it’s the family and money. This is just a step on the way. What happens if you don’t complete this step?

Student: I don’t get to my goal.

Me: That’s your motivation. Close your eyes and picture the dream and think about that while you’re here. You don’t have to like me or the class, but you do want to reach your dream. Let’s do it together. I’m here to help you reach your dream, but I need you to help me, too.

I know it sounds corny, but the kids really buy in. And, it almost always eliminates future behavior problems and sometimes improves my attendance rates. I have not had a student removed from my classes for behavior issues in six years since I started this type of discussion with kids.

Kids understand dreams.

12 thoughts on “Do We Need Classroom Rules?

  1. Erin

    I love your positive twist on discipline. As an elementary school teacher, I don’t think I would be able to switch completely over to that style, but I could definitely use the questioning technique.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. mpullen

    I do the same thing… no set rules. Instead, we talk about respect, compassion, kindness, etc. I also do set up procedures, which I think are different than rules. It’s good to see that someone else out there feels the same way!

  3. drpezz Post author

    Awesome to hear I’m not alone! The only procedures I set up are the ones for how I conduct class, essentially the routines for returning from absences and the like. All seems to move rather well without formal rules.

  4. Dan Meyer

    For sure. Solid post. Working without an established set of rules and consequences is like flying around the circus big-top without a net. I mean, it’s scary. And then kind of exhilarating.

    I am surely a much more compassionate, confident, and self-possessed individual for teaching’s influence on my life.

  5. Gavin

    This year I phrased my “rules” as “expectations” and explained to the students that I was detailing the kind of attributes I expect to see in them. In most classes it went down pretty well, even leading to discussions where all concerned seemed to agree that I was being fair and thinking of their interests. It’s too early to tell what the effect is, though.

    Thanks for detailing another alternative. I’ll look for opportunities where I think I can apply some of this wisdom.

  6. Angus

    I just post Hellison’s levels of responsibility and review them with my class a couple of times a semester, and then with individuals as need be. I am trying to be a teacher. I don’t have time to police all the “rules”, and then be judge, jury and executioner.

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  12. Omela Baboolal

    We may be on to something here. I teach elementary school and my take on this is that once we get children of any age to understand that discipline comes from within and is not manifested by what you do when being supervised but rather what you do even in the absence of figures of authority, then presence or absence of rules in a classroom becomes insignificant.This involves doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do. We were all created with the ability to differentiate between right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable, so children automatically know what is required..


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