How To Test Your Class Rules

Smart Classroom Management: How To Test Your Class RulesThe purpose of class rules is to protect every student’s right to learn and enjoy school.

It’s to form an impenetrable boundary that keeps misbehavior out and the freedom to teach in.

Do your rules do that? Do they account for every possible disruption?

Because if they don’t, if there are openings in your hedgerow, then your students will find their way through.

In time, those openings will grow larger and larger and misbehavior will grow more frequent and more severe.

So how do you know? How can you be sure your rules are sufficient?

Well, several years ago, I came up with a simple way to test them. Here’s how it works:

Take out a sheet of paper and draw a square in the center.

Outside of the square, write down every misbehavior you can think of that you’ve witnessed in the past five years—or for as long as you’ve been teaching. Take your time with this step. It’s most important.

Inside the square represents a well-behaved class. It represents politeness, respect, listening, and learning. It’s sacred and thus must be safeguarded from anything and everything that threatens it.

Now, take out your current set of rules. Go back and read all the misbehaviors you wrote down and determine if you have a rule that addresses each one.

If you do, then write the number of the rule next to the misbehavior. If you don’t, or you’re unsure, then underline it.

The underlined behaviors are openings in your wall. They result in guaranteed confusion—for both you and your students—more misbehavior, and slower academic progress.

To close them, you need to decide whether these stray misbehaviors can perhaps fall under a current rule or you must create a new rule.

Sweet Clarity

The point of this exercise is to define for yourself in a very clear way which misbehavior triggers which rule.

This is critical because when you’re able to recognize rule-breaking when you see it—i.e. no gray areas—then being consistent in enforcing consequences becomes a lot easier.

You’re also prepared to teach, model, and define for your students what each rule means, so they too will know, without a doubt, what is and isn’t okay.

This way, you avoid arguments and misunderstandings.

You avoid appearing wishy-washy and losing respect and influence. You avoid the loopholes and frustration of seeing the same misbehavior repeated again and again.

And not knowing what to do about it.

PS – For the rules we recommend here at SCM, please check out the elementary and high school guides in the sidebar at right.

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26 thoughts on “How To Test Your Class Rules”

  1. Thank you for being so wise and so practical. I teach MBA students, and your insights are applicable to all classrooms

    • Many thanks Michael, this article is so helpful.
      This visual representation can also be used in the classroom. I am thinking of drawing it on the board and ask the students about their thoughts about behaviours that break the rules.

  2. This “graphic organizer” is so helpful. I struggle with having too many rules or procedures. A smart administrator advised that “respect” isn’t enough to write as a rule; it must be described for students to understand what it means. So I describe lots of behaviors, too many, I think. I find that modeling and reinforcing “use conversational tone” is very useful. I teach in a high poverty, urban high school.

  3. I use your suggested basic rules, which work quite well. Seeing your visual, makes me think my classes and I could discuss what behaviors fall under each rule and that we could create a similar anchor chart alongside the posted rules. Doing so could help me with more targeted modeling, as well as create more student ownership. Thanks!

  4. Ditto! Thank you so so much!! My hope is renewed with this practical solution to the grey area problem! I can’t wait to try it!

  5. Ok, I have a question that has been in the back of my mind while thinking about the rules and consequences you suggest.

    If behaviors typically reflect a need, how do consequences such as warning, time-out, and note home help address the underlying needs causing misbehavior? Thanks for the help, you have transformed my classroom management!

    • Hi Beatrice,

      I don’t necessarily agree with your premise. However, I’ll be sure to write about this topic in a future article.

  6. This is such a great technique. What a true life hack😉 Thank you for all the very logical ideas!!!

  7. Thank you for such a clearly delineated visual! I’m looking forward to doing this strategy to hone and focus my rules!

  8. Great content sir, the graphical representation helps in understanding the concept of rules within a class is remarkable. This way the class rules will be enforced and what rules are unnecessary can be identified. Great work keep it up.

  9. Like Suella, I will, really appreciate it a lot if Michael or anyone on the platform can provide an answer to Beatrice Upah question above please.

  10. Hi Michael,
    I’m a veteran teacher who has followed you for years. I consistently use SCM, in my own way and I can testify it works! I rarely comment–only if I have something constructive to add.

    Towards the end of last school year, I became very discouraged and disappointed by comments on your posts! So many times I felt like posting, “It seems you hate your job, your school, your administration, and most of all, it seems you hate students. Please do the country a favor and change professions!” But I didn’t, because that is not constructive. And I am not in those teachers’ shoes.

    HOWEVER, reading these posts running up to a new year, and especially this post, and seeing all the young and new teachers, gives me hope and renewed pride in the profession! There is a deep seated need for advice like yours, so please keep up the good work!

    Debbie, high school history

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