How to Create The Perfect Set Of Class Rules

Smart Classroom Management: How To Create The Perfect Set Of Classroom RulesYour class rules are the first line of defense against misbehavior.

They should never be left to chance.

They should never be created as an afterthought or copied from the teacher next door.

They must be created thoughtfully and in a way that is relevant and meaningful to students.

We know from talking with teachers that there is no small amount of confusion about how to do this.

So today we’re going to set the record straight. We’re going to show you precisely how to construct the perfect set of class rules.

To begin, it’s important to recognize that to be effective in dissuading misbehavior, your rules must meet each of the following six criteria:

1. They must be simple.

When your students are first introduced to your rules, they should inherently understand what they mean.

Although each rule must be taught and modeled extensively, the simpler and clearer they are to begin with, the more impactful they’ll be.

2. They must be definable.

Effective rules have no gray area. You must know without a doubt, and be able to communicate, exactly what is and isn’t okay.

Any uncertainty over what constitutes breaking rules leads to arguing and resentment—which in turn render consequences much less effective.

3. They must be enforceable.

It’s common for teachers to include rules that are virtually unenforceable. For example, ‘respect yourself’ is a nice sentiment, but too ambiguous to enforce.

Further, a lack of self-respect doesn’t disrupt the class and thus wouldn’t be considered misbehavior.

4. They must be expansive.

Your rules must cover every possible misbehavior. If you enforce a consequence, but can’t confidently cite what rule was broken, then your students won’t trust you.

They must know when they’ve broken a rule—and exactly which one—or they won’t take responsibility for their misbehavior.

5. They must be prominent.

If your rules aren’t important to you, then they won’t be important to your students. Place them high and bold on your classroom wall for the world to see.

Their glaring presence should be a constant reminder to every student that sacred learning is priority one.

6. They must be behavior rules only.

Classroom rules must reflect behavior expectations only and kept separate from academic expectations.

Including a rule like ‘turn in homework on time’ is confusing to students and doesn’t belong alongside rules dedicated to protecting the right to learn and enjoy school.

Creating Your Own Rules

A good way to begin designing your own set of class rules is to jot down every misbehavior you can think of. Be sure to include the most annoying and most severe you’ve witnessed during your career.

The purpose of your rules is to protect yourself and your students from any and all misbehavior that disrupts learning. They act as an impenetrable wall, keeping interruptions out and inspiration in.

You can create your rules from scratch using the misbehaviors you’ve written as your guide, or you can put ours to the test.

Here at Smart Classroom Management we recommend the following four rules, which have proven effective over and over again in thousands of classrooms.

  1. Listen and follow directions.
  2. Raise your hand before speaking and leaving your seat.
  3. Keep your hands and feet to yourself.
  4. Respect your classmates and your teacher.

However, before adopting them as your own, it’s a good idea to look through your personal list of misbehaviors to make sure each one is covered by at least one rule.

After completing this exercise, if you find you need to add another rule, no problem. As long as it meets all six criteria, it should work just fine.

Preparing For The New School Year

Although important, creating an effective set of class rules is only a small part of classroom management. From modeling routines to enforcing consequences to building relationships, every area must be on point.

The good news is that with nearly 400 articles, our archive is chock full of specific, actionable strategies you can use to become a highly skilled classroom manager.

In particular, I encourage you to spend time in the Classroom Management Plan, Rules & Consequences, and First Days Of School categories.

As the new school year fast approaches, they’re sure to prepare you for the best opening month you’ve ever had.

Thanks for reading.


If you haven’t done so already, please join us. It’s free! Click here and begin receiving classroom management articles like this one in your email box every week.

40 thoughts on “How to Create The Perfect Set Of Class Rules”

  1. There is a lot of advice which advocates deciding rules with students to give them more ownership and, therefore, more incentive and responsibility to follow them (even if the teacher guides the discussion to ensure it includes the rules they would want). Sometimes this is done as an agreement which students sign, or lists of rights and responsibilities. Do you think there is a place for this?

  2. How do you define respect your classmates and your teacher? What about more subtle disrespect (eye rolling) from the back of the class?

    • Hi Lucas,

      Ultimately, it’s for you to decide/define what is and isn’t disrespectful in your own classroom. If you’re asking me personally, then yes, eye rolling, presumably in response to the teacher, is disrespectful and therefore a transgression of the rule.


  3. I am a Library Media Specialist and see our 750 kids once every 6 school days for 30 minutes (just started reading Classroom Management for Art, Music, and PE teachers). I am in a school with many behavioral issues. I am wondering first about Time Out. What do I do with students who refuse to go to time out? I have students who will continue to act out and not leave their seats. Also, if I use recess time out, I would have 50 kids a day in there. Especially in the beginning. I also don’t give grades which creates another level of lack of buy-in. I feel my lessons are fun and exciting – I do a lot of STEM activities, experiments and so forth which the kids enjoy but talking throughout my instruction and high volume levels during work time are my 2 biggest issues. Our school also uses a PBIS method so we use minor and major write up forms and positive reinforcement slips. It’s so hard with so many kids and when so many of them have behavioral problems. Thank you for any advice you are willing to give.

  4. Do you have a preferred/recommended method of keeping track of rule infractions? I don’t think I’ve ever come across one on the site. My 2nd grade team traditionally uses the clip chart (no requirement) and I really can’t stand the thing and would like something more inconspicuous. I found success with your methods, but some parents became obsessed with the chart more than their kids’ academic performance.

  5. Hi Michael!!!
    Thanks for your book and your website!!!
    Please put me on your mailing list for Classroom Behavior.

    • Hi Sue,

      You’re welcome! You can sign up by clicking the red button on the sidebar (top).


  6. looking for advice in regards to students being off task, not disruptive, simply sitting and doing nothing or working/drawing/reading etc on something else. Do you consider being on task to be a behavior or academic rule? Math is when this problem is most prominent. I am not great at making math fun and I have a handful of students who struggle with math, a few due to learning disabilities. Any thoughts or feedback would be appreciated.

    Last year I made being on task one of my classroom rules, seemed like a losing battle at times even when I consistently followed my discipline plan.


    • Hi Brad,

      If a student is working on something else, then they’re not following your directions and thus would be breaking a class rule (Listen and follow directions).


  7. Hi Michael!
    I just finished reading your book on classroom management for specialist teachers. Very good! Wow….I’ll be making a lot of changes this year. Do you have suggestions on how to enforce a quiet voice level during independent work time? I’m an art teacher k-5 and enforcing inside voices has failed in past. Once the class gets too loud what should I do? Stop and get their attention and then stop, review rule, model and role play how to talk in a whisper? it seems for a class of 20 the noise level is too high even if they’re talking in regular indoor voices so I’m thinking of allowing whisper talking only.

  8. Hi Michael,

    After reading your book on classroom management for specialist teachers I have a question. You mentioned spending 15-20 minutes at beginning of first 3-4 class periods on the behavior management plan. That sounds good but I also have rotating jobs for each table of students totaling 6 Art jobs to help with running of the classroom. How can I realistically have time to teach, model, role play all those routines also in my very limited time with them? Any suggestions?

    • Hi Diana,

      If you want to have good classroom management, then teaching your plan is a must. It’s something you can’t compromise on. As for how to teach routines in a short amount of time, you wouldn’t try. You would teach them only after you cover your plan.


  9. Hi! Thank you so much! I am an avid reader of your articles and have implemented many of your strategies. I am going to be teaching high school students this year. Are these strategies relevant for high school students also? How would you suggest implementing them? I can’t see myself modeling the rules for of 11th grade students.

    • Hi Jessica,

      The classroom rules recommended above would look different for high school classrooms. Unfortunately, covering how they would look and be implemented is too big of a question than the time and space we have here. I’m hoping to have an ebook or guide specifically for high school teachers in the near future.


  10. Hi Michael,

    Enjoying the latest article about establishing class rules. My question is, in the article where you mention in #3, showing respect is not enforceable, but in your rules suggestions, it’s the fourth rule. I have used these rules as my own, but I have to teach what respect means and what it looks like. I don’t know if I should remove this rule or not. It seems like a contradiction.

    Thanks for clarifying.

  11. Our school is considering following “Smart Classroom Management” school-wide as a set of norms that all teachers are following. The 4 rules you list are great for the classroom, but I’m wondering how you would adapt them to be school-wide rules that could be followed in the hallways or during anytime/anywhere within the scope of the school day. Thank you!

  12. Hi Michael,

    I am just about to begin my first year of teaching and your book has challenged every single thing I have been taught or modelled during my University degree, it is amazing! I have a question regarding rules. I will be a Year 7 teacher and at the school I am at every student has a laptop computer and there are some issues with not playing games etc on them. I am considering switching ‘keeping hands and feet to yourself’ out to be replaced with something like ‘appropriate/responsible use of all equipment’. Do you think there is a place for ‘keeping hands and feet to yourself’ I have not picked up on, and do you think the equipment rule is valid?

    Thank you kindly for changing my teaching methods entirely!

    • Hi Annie,

      I would keep the hands and feet to yourself rule until you know you don’t need it or can make it more specific (no playfighting or roughhousing, for example). As for use of laptops, just add a rule, but make it specific (ex. no playing games on computer during class time).


  13. Hi Michael,

    I appreciate your articles and book ‘Dream Class’. They have greatly influenced my understanding of rules/consequences and my philosophy in justifying using them.

    I’ve created my classroom rules (I’m working in a high school) with the responsibility in mind that they protect the students’ rights to be safe, to learn, and to enjoy school without interruption.

    Class rules:

    1. The teacher is in charge of the room and the class. Any reasonable instruction must be followed.

    2. If the teacher is speaking, the class must listen. If the teacher has asked anyone else to speak, the class must listen.

    3. Work quietly. Do not disturb others. No calling out.

    4. No distractions – No personal grooming. No electronics. No food or drinks (except water).

    My work expectations are on a different list and I wasn’t sure if I should clump them together and follow the same consequences for work as I do for behaviour. I can’t seem to figure it out. How do you approach your work expectations if they’re not being met? Would you class it as a violation of rule 1: not doing as the teacher has instructed?

    The ones I have are as follows:

    Work expectations

    5. At the beginning of the lesson, students should take their assigned seats and quickly begin the work given to them.

    6. Every student should bring their equipment to the lesson.

    7. All work to be completed to the best of your ability.

    Any help is appreciated.



    • Hi Victor,

      For high school, they can be lumped together and even condensed into a shorter list of rules, but it depends on your consequences, how you configure grades, and whether or not you’re having any problems with behavior. This is a topic that is too big for the time and space we have here. I’m hoping to write a classroom management plan ebook for high school teachers this summer if all goes smoothly with my current project. It’s also something we can talk through if you’re interested in personal coaching.


  14. How many rules are too many rules? I have not read your book yet, so if you answered it there, just let me know!

    Also, I have had problems with students being up and out of work spaces distracting others or rolling around on the whole group carpet. Would it be effective to have a rule that states, “Stay in your learning area and work quietly”? What would you do?

  15. Hi Micheal,

    I like your set of condensed rules.

    Is it necessary, though, to have rules two and three? Couldn’t they be classed as directions and thus be covered by rule number one?

    For my class, I have created a set of about 25 directions and putting your hand up before asking questions, not leaving your seat and keeping your hands and feet to yourself are included in those directions. I give a handout which goes into detail about the what, the why and the how of each of these directions, and gradually teach a few each day to my students during class, over the first two or three weeks of the semester.

    In my case, do you think two rules (numbers one and four in your list) will be sufficient for my classroom or in fact most classrooms, if rules two and three are counted as directions?


    • Hi Gary,

      I think they’re necessary, very much so. But that doesn’t mean you can’t configure them as you wish and make them work. Remember, rules and consequences, though important, are a small part of effective classroom management.


  16. I have two questions.

    1. Is number 4 too vague for Kindergarteners? Even with talking about it?
    2. I HATE being interrupted to ask if a student can go to the bathroom or blow their nose. What are the cons to allowing the students quietly get up and take a pass whenever they need to go to the bathroom (one girl and boy at a time) or quietly get up to get a tissue whenever they need to? As long as it is quiet, why would this cause problems? I was thinking of dealing with it this way this year and am curious on your thoughts.

    • Hi Malia,

      1. Yes, I prefer “Be Nice.”
      2. As long as you define it, and model it explicitly, this would be fine.


  17. Hi! Do you think it is a good way to set a penalty for breaking the rules? For example, if anyone breaks any of the rules he must brings cookies for the class.


  18. My students each have their own macbook for class and are continually messing around on the computer even when they are supposed to be working on certain school work.. What kind of rule would you suggest making to keep them focused and on track while they are on their computers?

    • Hi Marlee,

      You can have a rule specific to the activity (i.e. stay on task) or enforce a consequences based on the rule ‘Listen and follow directions.’


  19. Dear Michael –Love all of your articles that I have read which are a lot of them, I feel like a new teacher, even though I have been in the education system 35 years.
    Thanks so much! I wish I had found these articles years ago. But now for my question, I teach large groups–keyboarding in fact, and I have a question about what I should include in my rules. I have included their technique, how they sit when keyboarding, in my rules. I was wondering should I? I have a lot of rules it seems like too me and I would like to streamline them so to speak. So, should I continue to give consequences on their technique and whether they are typing correctly or should I use that separately for a part of their grade. I only give s’s-or u’s in Keyboarding. What is your opinion on that?

    • Hi Wendy,

      Your rules should involve misbehavior only. Thus, no, I would not have rules governing keyboarding skills.

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