Teachers of all experience levels often struggle with classroom rules. It can be the hardest part of any new school year or even a new semester. Just like teachers, students struggle to understand why classroom rules are important.
Establishing classroom rules at the beginning of the year is the best thing a teacher can do to set their students up for future success. What works for one group of students, won’t always work for the next student. That’s why it’s important to work with your students to create rules that work with them and seem fair.
We asked our classroom management specialists to break down their top tips for setting up efficient and effective classroom rules that improve classroom management, enforce priorities, and help improve classroom management.
Top 3 Classroom rules from efficient and effective classrooms
Think of classroom rules as the priority
Think of classroom rules as the hill you’d want to die on. That means consistently enforcing rules; that the world stops when there’s a rule violation. If you’re not consistently enforcing your classroom rules, they won’t be helpful tools for students to navigate how they want their classrooms to run.
Look at 3-5 positively stated expectations, then link those specifically to your school-wide expectations. If your school hasn’t set up school-wide expectations, consider a national model like Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports. PBIS focuses on being safe, respectful, and responsible.
Everyone keep hands, feet, and objects to themselves
A core classroom rule to establish early on is that everyone should keep hands, feet, and objects to themselves. By asking your kids directly to do this, you’re cutting out a multitude of problems and distractions that happen throughout the year. Lessons are interrupted all the time by students touching each other, throwing things around a room, or just being rowdy.
Establishing the expectation that everyone keeps to their selves connects directly to PBIS expectations of being safe. It also helps enforce the idea that students need to maintain orderly conduct throughout the day and focus on learning while in the classroom.
Work during work Time
We need to teach kids that, when we’re asking them to work, we’re serious about that. Creating classroom rules focused on working during work time helps demonstrate responsible behavior. It also has the added bonus of encouraging a good work ethic among your students and minimizing distractions.
Follow the teacher’s direction the first time, every time.
It’s incredibly important to develop the expectation of respect in your classroom. As a teacher, you want to send the message to your students that you’re only going to ask things you need them to do. You also want to establish that you’re serious about those asks.
Physical Classroom rules that improve classroom management
When we talk about classroom management, we often lean on theory but forget the practical steps we can take. One of the best things you can do for your classroom is learning how to set up classroom rules that physically set students up for success.
Control the environment, not the students.
You don’t have the power to control your students, but you can control your environment. Creating a good seating chart and arrangement is one of the best ways you can control your environment.
Try this. Once you’ve set up your classroom, sit in every seat in the room. See what that kid sees. Can the student see your rules? Can the student get instructional materials? Can all students see the board without turning around or straining their necks? Is this desk near distractions like the door, window, pencil sharpener, etc? This will help you decide which students to put where based on their needs.
Make sure you’re able to get to every student and provide them individual attention.
Individual attention is critical to making sure students succeed in the classroom. If your classroom is set up in such a way that you can’t physically get to certain students, then you’re blocking yourself off and not able to use proximity and individual redirects to help manage that student.
Think about how you arrange desks in your classroom.
The best recommendation for arrangement is actually a U shape. Honestly, it’s really hard to find classrooms that are big enough for a U shape but it’s still one of the best recommendations. You can sometimes put some partner groups in the middle to accommodate more students, but always make sure you have a path to move around.
Your second-best arrangement is to create groups of four. The third best is creating student rows. When creating student rows, make sure to create a path that allows you to quickly get to all students so you don’t have to go all the way out and around.
It might be tempting to create groups of 6-8, but big groups are one of the least effective seating arrangements.
How classroom rules can improve classroom behavior
We’ve written before about classroom management strategies and how they can improve your overall classroom behavior. But establishing rules with your students also helps improve their classroom behavior. It all comes back to establishing clear priorities and modeling great behavior!
Model appropriate behavior
We can prevent inappropriate behavior from happening by modeling appropriate behavior for our students. We can also ask our students to agree to model appropriate behavior with each other.
Create classroom rules that ask students to greet each other by their names, treat each other with respect and kindness, and provide support for each other when needed. By establishing these as clear rules at the beginning of the year, you’ll assert that your classroom is a safe and judgment-free space of learning.
Following up and taking back your power
Teachers often struggle with inappropriate behavior because they feel powerless in the situation. Teachers will use phrases like, “Don’t make me have to…” or “We’re not going outside until…” when attempting to correct inappropriate behavior in the classroom. This type of language gives all the power to the student or makes them look as if they have all the power.
Reflecting back to the core classroom rules, it’s important that you practice the rules you’ve created together. When it gets too loud in a classroom say, “I’m going to stop reading and review the expectations because it’s too loud in here.” The goal is to remind students about their agreed-upon classroom expectations.
These ideas can be used to prevent misbehavior, avoid a power struggle, and provide a short, immediate response to a behavior that will allow you to deal with it at a more appropriate time. No one strategy will solve all your behavior issues, but adding these ideas to your toolbox will help prevent misbehavior and increase time on academics.
Angela has 24 years of experience in education. She has been in her current position for 12 years. Angela has trained and provided coaching support to over 200 campuses for PBIS. She is also a certified Restorative Practices coordinator. She is a trainer for Interventions, Coaching Classroom Management, CHAMPS, and Why Try.