Thanks to Joel for allowing me this opportunity to post an article on his excellent site!
In my short time as a blogger I have written a few posts which have elicited quite a few e-mails, These include posts about the fish bowl lesson, how teachers may create student failures, and ideas about teaching denotation and connotation. However, my post regarding the need for classroom rules has brought in more e-mails than any other. I actually ran a small in-service at my school for some of the new teachers about why I don’t have classroom rules, and I think a couple were shocked that rules may not be necessary.
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.
Some teachers in my building wonder why I haven’t really started teaching the course content up to two weeks into the semester (they mean our English readings), but I am teaching. I just use bonding activities and teach the speaking and writing skills first as we get to know each other. By the end of the semester we have usually covered more than the requirements because of the relationships built. I believe in cooperation over competition, and this includes discipline.
I even had the principal walk in and look for my classroom rules. When she couldn’t find them posted, she asked me where they were, and I replied that I don’t have any. She then asked how I maintain order, and I then explained that I teach respect and model it. The kids know I care.
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 seven years since I started this type of discussion with kids.
Kids understand dreams.