Rule-Free Teaching

414512_student_handbook_002This year, we have done things quite a bit differently in our band classes. We have not spent any time really outlining classroom rules. In fact, we really have been operating on a rule-free teaching model. Earlier this week, I clarified my “don’t talk to me” policy. Beyond that though, we really haven’t gone over anything specifically. No lists of rules and consequences. No do this, don’t do this. It’s just been fairly smooth.

Of course from time to time, we have to elaborate on a few points (restroom passes, phone usage, etc.) but those are more policy type things. In fact, we have normally spent an entire class day going over the Band Handbook and passing it out to students and sending a copy home with them.

Not this year.

We came to realize that the school district doesn’t send employee handbooks or even student handbooks home any more. They do all of that stuff online. So we jumped on the bandwagon (so to speak). Our band handbook is on our band’s website and we sent home a signature page/information sheet. It’s worked out pretty flawlessly so far.

I get the sense that I may need to go over a few items from the handbook in class from time to time, but by and large, having it online saves us from printing 15 pages for 250 kids. It’s a huge savings. It also gives us more playing/learning name time with the students. It’s a win-win.

So how do we teach without rules?
Occasionally, I will address a minor behavioral concern with the students (ie. “It’s too loud, we can’t operate like this,” or “I can’t hear any answers if people don’t raise their hands.”). I sometimes outline consequences (ie. “Wow, that was a bad idea. Do it again and we’re calling your mom!” “If I hear you two talking again, we’re all gonna be spending lunch together!”). I find that by the time students get to middle school, they know full well how standard classroom rules work. They may need occasional reminders, but not too much.

School-wide rules
Another advantage is that our school has clearly defined school rules. These are posted in every classroom. I find that this is more than enough. We haven’t once discussed them, but the students know them.

Simplicity
As much of a fan as I am of minimalism and simplicity, I have come to realize that my middle school students have six different classes. In the working world, that would be like having six different jobs each day with†six different bosses, six different desks, six different sets of co-workers, six different sets of expectations and six different working environments. Why complicate the issue further by adding six different sets of rules and six different sets of consequences? Why not appeal to common-sense standards?

Previously I’ve used the rules:

  1. Follow directions
  2. Do nothing that interferes with the learning or the teaching in the class
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Those wrap up everything I want the students to do. Beyond that, everything else is pretty much unnecessary.

So…
To the new teachers out there, how are your classroom rules working out for you? Do you find that your lists of rules helps? Do you find it difficult for even you to stick to your set of rules? I know I used to. Hang in there…keep trying things and analyzing their effectiveness!

About Joel Wagner 522 Articles
Joel Wagner (@sywtt) began teaching band in 2002. Though he had a lot of information, his classes were out of control. He found himself tired, frustrated, disrespected by students, lonely, and on the brink of quitting. He had had enough. He resigned from his school district right before spring break of his second year and made it his personal mission to learn to be a great teacher. So You Want To Teach? is the ongoing story of that quest for educational excellence.

9 Comments on Rule-Free Teaching

  1. I haven’t used class rules in my room for years. I have nothing posted. When something happens that interfers with learning, I handle it on the spot. I do not send students to the office unless the infraction is really bad. I also do not set children outside the classroom. (no learning goes on when they are not in the room.) My class this year is just beginning to run super smooth. They know what behavior I expect and they try to meet that behavior.
    I don’t believe in letting students set the rules and consequences either because then they tattle all the time.

  2. Each teacher has his own set of rules. Some are too rigid; others are flexible. As far as I’m concerned, I have my own class mangement policy. The rules I set depend on the behavior that promote learning and not the rules that yield a dead silent classroom.

  3. Hm. I rather like having my classroom expectations (Work Hard, Be Kind, and Follow Directions) posted. It serves as a reminder to me as much as to my students (who will call each other – or me! – out on behavior that doesn’t meet the expectations).

  4. I love your idea of simple rules! Not only are they easier to remember, but they don’t make you seem like a dictator! It’s really inspiring to see you promoting school as a fun learning time, as opposed to just a learning time.

    Just wanted to drop a note saying that I am enjoying your blog!

  5. In my ed philosophy course in university, we were recommended not to have rules but expectations, as a few have mentioned above. I have only four (to keep it simple):

    Follow directions the first time. (This one is routinely broken by some students.)
    Show common courtesy.
    Respect others who are talking. (similar to #2, but worth repeating)
    Come to class prepared to learn and to demonstrate what you have learned.

    Probably not a perfect list, but I like it, and I think kids in general know how they should act, even when they are motivated not to act that way to get attention or distract the class or even to irritate me (and there’s been plenty of that). I could probably add Mike H’s “rule” as another expectation, and maybe I’ll consider adding that to my list to round it out a bit. Heaven knows I have a few students who don’t get the fact that there are other students in my classes who do want to learn.

  6. I am a student, and I am going into the education field. I really like your idea about not to have rules but expectations. I will be thinking about your ideas when I have my own classroom someday.!

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