Are Classroom Rules Needed?

My school is shifting its policies and behavior programs, and I was asked what rules I felt were essential in the classroom. I replied that I don’t have any classroom rules and have never felt like I needed them. Obviously, there was a bit of shocked silence, and then the speaker moved on to another person to ask the same question.

I decided to bring back one of my more popular posts, so here it is.


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.

2 thoughts on “Are Classroom Rules Needed?

  1. ms_teacher

    in our school district, teachers have been mandated to put up rules in their classroom. These aren’t rules teachers have developed, rather its district wide rules with no buy-in from teachers or ownership from the students. I also didn’t have any rules posted in my classroom. My two rules were treat everyone with respect and dignity (including their property). This was discussed and referenced throughout the school year. I generally didn’t have a problem using these “rules” when an issue arose.


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