Posting the Rules Isn't Enough

Posting The Rules Isn’t Enough

This is a true story from my first year of teaching. When I first started teaching, I knew how important it was to post the rules. But there’s more to it than that. (From All The Ways I Screwed Up My First Year of Teaching, And How You Can Avoid Doing It, Too –  “The Golden Feathered Pen”)

Why Posting The Rules Isn't EnoughI lift a beautiful golden-feathered pen from the millionth box I unpack, take it out of its elegant case, and sign my name a couple of times. Ahh bliss! The pen reminds me to create my Class Rules poster. Out come the gold stick-on letters and white poster board. An hour later I proudly hang up the “Be Kind, Be Safe, Be Respectful” poster in the front of the room.

On the first day of school, I gather my students next to the poster and we have a little talk. I give examples of safety, kindness, and respect. After the discussion each student solemnly signs the poster with the special pen. I naively think this little ceremony will imprint the importance of the rules in the minds of the students.

The next day Kaden pulls Jennie’s hair. “Kaden, is that Kind?” I ask, pointing to the poster. Kaden looks confused. His head swivels to see what I’m pointing to. He looks back at me and shrugs.

“Kaden, come with me. Look here on the poster. Where is your name?”

“Right there, Teacher.”

“Did you mean it when you signed the rules?”  He nods.

“What do you think you should do now?”

He looks at me for a beat or two. “Math?”

I take a deep breath. “Kaden, what do you think you should do about Jennie?” Eyes dart to Jennie. Shrug.

“Kaden, you pulled Jennie’s hair. Was that Kind?”

“No.” Kaden is an impulsive eight-year-old. Kindness is probably not on his mind when he sees Jennie’s springy hair. He probably just wonders how it would feel to pull it. But he’s smart enough to fig­ure out what I want now.

“What do you think you should do now?”

Sorry, Jennie“Sorry, Jennie,” he says, and with this display of genuine remorse and repentance, skips back to his seat. Lesson learned, right?

If I had a do-over, the student meeting about rules would be a little different. I would be less concerned about the beauty of the poster and the seriousness of the signing ceremony, and more concerned about whether the students know exactly what I expect of them. (After all, how many third-graders sign legal documents? They write their names on things all the time at school. They don’t really know why. They just shrug and do it so they can go to recess.)

I might invite student input on the rules or I might not. In any case, I would make sure to state the expectations in terms of actions (Keep Your Hands to Yourself, instead of Be Kind), and teach each one in many different contexts throughout the year instead of relying on a poster and a special pen to do my work for me.

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