Are Your Class Rules Enforceable?

Smart Classroom Management: Are Your Class Rules Enforceable?Last week, I shared a way to make sure your class rules cover every possible misbehavior.

But if you did the exercise, you may have noticed something strange. Something you weren’t sure what to do with.

Something left over.

You see, the exercise was designed to reveal not only weaknesses in your classroom management plan, but also rules you don’t need.

Some readers even discovered that none of their rules covered actual disruptions.

How can this be?

Well, it’s common to confuse rules with encouragements—which are behaviors you’d like to see in your students but are ultimately unenforceable.

Furthermore, these “rules” get passed around from teacher to teacher and even make their way onto posters you can buy online.

Here are some examples:

  • Do your best.
  • Be ready to learn.
  • Try new things.
  • Have fun.
  • Dream big.
  • Make wise choices.
  • Take responsibility.
  • Be a friend.
  • Share.
  • Have good manners.
  • Help each other.
  • Love to learn.
  • Keep an open mind.
  • Be caring.
  • Work hard.
  • Practice good sportsmanship.

They’re nice, to be sure, and wonderful to advocate. They can even be used as themes for your class or weekly reminders of their importance.

But they’re not rules.

Rules protect your freedom to teach and your students’ right to learn and enjoy school. That’s it. Their job is singularly focused on curbing disruptions.

Whether it’s calling out, side-talking, disrespect, ignoring directions, or otherwise . . . it’s behavior that has a negative impact on listening, learning, and the polite, kind culture of the classroom.

Encouragements like those listed above, on the other hand, do no such thing and are all but impossible to enforce. They’re vague, subjective, and difficult to determine whether they’ve been broken.

They’re also incredibly confusing to students—and hurtful if you do attempt to enforce them.

To ensure your rules are rightly suited for their intended purpose, I recommend completing the exercise from last week. In just a few minutes, you can to test whether they cover any and every misbehavior you may encounter and whether or not they’re enforceable.

And if they’re not? If some of what you thought were rules are actually encouragements, exhortations, and the like?

Then get rid of them.

PS – I’ll be in New York City next week speaking to administrators from Success Academy Schools, but will be back with a new article on July 2oth.

Also, if you haven’t done so already, please join us. It’s free! Click here and begin receiving new-article updates in your email box every week.

18 thoughts on “Are Your Class Rules Enforceable?”

  1. Michael,

    Prime example why I don’t like preface store bought stuff. I use your rules and enforce them. I also am required to have a behavior matrix posted that I make with the students, I also have them sign it. Having it in their words and with their signature goes a long ways.

    The behavior matrix is a chart with the school “rules” across the top..be safe, be responsible, be respectful. Then we write down the side things like while group, small group, independent work, transitions and outside of room. We fill in what each of the school rules looks like for each of those areas. When I release them to work we go over what it looks like.

    I’m required to have the behavior matrix on the wall. I choose to have them help me write it and enforce it with your rules. I rarely have a behavior problem.

    • Hi Karen,
      The ideas of a matrix with their input and signatures are great. Sudents feel more responsible and committed to adhere to the rules.
      I believe that enforcing these rules and being consistent when enforcing them are equally important to achieve a well behaved class.

    • What do you do about stealing if you can’t determine who is doing it? Last year I had some sneaky kids who took other people’s and my belongings but I couldn’t always determine who did it to apply a consequence fairly.

    • Hi Anna,

      Please check out the high school plan in the bottom right sidebar. It covers all the details.

  2. Absolutely.
    Hands to yourself
    Raise your hand
    Use conversational tone model this)

    Do you think positive rules rather than negative? “No cursing” is so much clearer than “appropriate language.”

    Listing consequences for behaviors and earned privileges helps.

  3. Michael,
    I really enjoyed reading your article. I just am not a big slogan fan, either. They’re very popular and I feel like it’s a short term emotional “feel good” shot in the arm. Again, thank you for your insight. I really enjoyed receiving your coaching, it was invaluable. My colleague, a new teacher, really benefited from your coaching and reading your book. What a difference it has made for the both of us!

  4. Every year for the past several years I have had my six grade students do a warm up activity where they “free write about a time they were trying to focus and someone else made that difficult”. Everyone shares out as a make a list of thematic problem behaviors on the whiteboard. We then use their list of problems to make a list of rules that would cover all of the disruptions written about. I believe it helps them understand the purpose and value of rules. They also take ownership of the rules. Every year the rules end up being the same but paraphrased.

    • Great idea Scott. Can you tell me what “usually” ends up being your final rules after this activity?

  5. Your book literally changed my life and the blog continues to improve it. Last year I had almost zero stress where previous years I had to take personal days just to manage. Thank you for being “real.”

    The kids joke around a lot about me using “warnings” etc. but it works and other teachers have started to come to me to see how I am doing it, even adopting my rules chart word for word. I admit the rules chart is there to remind ME to enforce them, not the students. The students respect me and by the end of the year I’m their favorite teacher… I’ve heard, “Put children in an empty field and they will huddle around each other but build a fence and they will explore the edges.” The rules clearly make them feel safe.

    Question: Warnings and detentions and clear cut consequences have worked wonders for my Sophomore and even Juniors, but next year I am teaching Seniors. My first year I taught seniors and I basically had a nervous breakdown. They are very aware that the math course I will be teaching is not required and don’t care at all about losing points (I purchased the HS book). I understand what you said about giving them more respect by not calling out warnings and just making eye contact but I am not sure that will work with them. Should I just stick to what seems to work, be that “strict teacher” in the beginning, and follow my consequences list like a referee and not a judge? Or do you think I should be more realistic with what is enforceable and not, e.g. my 1st period senior class is likely to have incredibly poor attendance and lateness and I am not sure I have the time or energy to combat that.

  6. Hello,
    I love reading articles, they really feel that they have helped me improve my classroom management. My goal this year is to create classroom rules that appropriate. Do you have examples of rules somewhere that I can find to use as a reference? Also, should rules be negative such as “Don’t do this” or is it better to be positive such as “please do this”. Hope to hear back before August, I would love to be prepared for this school year.

    -Michelle

  7. You are right! But it gave me another doubt. How can I encourage my students, if its is not a rule? Can I do anything that take them love to learn, etc.?

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