The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Rules and Expectations

For most of my professional career, I have places a very large emphasis on the need for establishing classroom expectations for what students (and teachers!) should be doing, rather than making rules that must be followed. It is my firm belief that if expectations are being met, then rules would not be necessary.

In my school, we have three universal expectations: be safe, be responsible, and be respectful. We have our amazing PBIS posters (that are now being adopted by districts across the country) that give examples of what these expectations look like in practice in different settings. Each classroom teacher has the freedom to set expectations within these basic three.

My students help establish the expectations at the start of the year. The ones we decided on this year are as follows:

Be Safe:

  • KHFOOTY (Keep Hands, Feet, and Other Objects To Yourself)
  • Give Others Space
  • Walk With A Purpose

Be Respectful:

  • Use Kind Words
  • Listen to the Speaker
  • Raise Your Hand

Be Responsible:

  • Do Your Own Work
  • Follow Directions
  • Accept Consequences

If all of the members of the class did all of these things all the time, there wouldn’t be a need for many rules. But there are times when we need rules to guide us toward meeting the expectations. For example, I expect my students to listen to speakers, but sometimes they forget and get up to get a tissue or sharpen a pencil. The rule is that students stay seated when someone is speaking. There are always consequences connected to rules, but these consequences can be either positive or negative. We often focus on the negative consequences, or the punishment, associated with not following rules. If a student gets up when someone is speaking, the consequence is being verbally redirected, which may lead to slight embarrassment. But we shouldn’t forget about the positive consequences for following rules! If a student stays in her seat when someone is speaking, she gets to hear what is being said and receives the appreciation of classmates who were also able to hear.

I recently announced a new rule in my classroom, in the form of a simple couple:

Do as I say, or lose the next day!

What does this mean? It is simple: we use our Chromebooks a lot in my classroom. A colleague recently shared that her students don’t use their Chromebooks all that much, maybe just 20-30 minutes a day. I responded that we probably only have 20-30 minutes a day when we are not using our Chromebooks. They are an educational tool, much like textbooks and pencils, and we use them all day long. Unfortunately, some students keep using them when I’ve said to put them away, or they use them for unauthorised purposes. I want my students to appreciate these tools and recognise how important it is to practice digital citizenship, both in terms of interacting with others online appropriately and in terms of using use technology at the right time. So the rule is that students who don’t follow directions when using our Chromebooks will miss out on using them for either the remainder of the day or for the following day.

It has only taken a couple of applications for students to realise how much they value using their Chromebooks. They are much more responsive to following directions the first time now, knowing that the consequence is to lose their access. This rule has helped them meet the expectations to listen to the speaker, to follow directions, and to accept consequences. So as much as I believe in setting expectations and emphasising those over all else, I value the use of rules to guide students in their behaviour.


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