Rule-Free Teaching General by Joel Wagner - September 4, 2009June 30, 20109 This 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 rulesAnother 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. SimplicityAs 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: Follow directions Do nothing that interferes with the learning or the teaching in the class 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! Joel WagnerJoel 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.