How To Create Strong Rules Kids Actually Like

How To Create Strong Rules Kids Actually Like by A Word On Third

It's no secret that creating class rules can be hard, so for the second post in my Launch Your Classroom Right series, that's what we're covering. It can be a struggle to figure out how many rules to create, how to create them, what they should be, when they should be introduced... the list goes on. Generating rules can be one of the most powerful things you do to manage your classroom. When I learned about how to generate rules a few years back, it was mid-year. I re-vamped my classroom in January and noticed a difference almost immediately. If you stick to this system, I promise you will have effective rules that are good for both you and your students.

Step 1: Generate Hopes and Dreams

This is a really important step in the process--don't skip it!! Talk with the kids about what they come to school for. Discuss all of the things they'd like to accomplish. These things might include things like:
  • making friends
  • reading a chapter book
  • keeping an organized desk or folder
  • managing time well
  • completing homework
  • learning how to multiply
I like to first have a conversation about this and have kids brainstorm with each other about things they might want to accomplish. I usually give them a questionnaire to work on in partnerships (though their answers might be different from each other) with reflective questions. I ask them to think about what was hard in previous years, what they are worried about for the upcoming year, what they are good at, what they are excited to do, etc. When they have brainstormed some ideas as a class and reflected on their school history in partnerships, they are ready to pick a hope and dream to stick with for the year. After we pick the hopes and dreams we will use for the year, we publish them.

You can have them write and draw or just write depending on the age of your students, but I really like to publish ours on paper butterflies at the beginning of the year since we study Monarch Butterflies. In January, I will often have kids re-visit hopes and dreams since many have been met by that time, and I use this template, available for free in my store. Click the picture to download it!

Step 2: Generate Ideas For Rules

Now that you've published and celebrated setting goals for the year, your class is almost ready for another discussion about how to reach those goals. First, I make sure basic routines are set and everyone has started getting to know each other. I'd say I start step #2 in the second week of school. Before that, I expect appropriate behavior, but I don't think the kids are ready for this discussion until they understand they have a warm, welcoming environment and have gotten into "school mode." Once the kids are ready, I start out by discussing how amazing it will feel to reach all of their goals, and then I ask the class what they need to reach their goal.

I write down E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G. that they say on chart paper! 

Every idea is great. I sometimes ask questions to prompt them if they are quiet at first. Make sure you ask questions about conserving materials ("How might we need to treat books if we want to read chapter books?" "If we want to make a collage about dinosaurs, what might we need to do with our glue and markers?") That gets overlooked a lot. You might ask some questions the kids reflected on in step 1 again to get the ideas flowing.

The list ends up being huge, so expect this to take time. This usually takes my class one or two class periods of generating ideas. It's tempting to rush, but this is going to set the tone for your class all year. If the class is too antsy, tell them this is important work and we can continue working on it again another day. This is TOO important not to take seriously. Did I mention you should take your time on this? Take your time!!

When you chart what the kids say, make sure that your kids word things positively in your list of generated rules. So, if a kid says something like, "One time someone said something mean to me, and it really hurt my feelings. I think we need to remember to not be mean so we can reach our hopes and dreams," then you can respond with, "If we're not being mean, what will we be doing?" Then the child might say they will use kind words, be kind, be polite, or something else. I think it's really important to honor each child's precise words. If you change them, ask for permission before writing different words down. There will be some repeats (maybe even word for word!), so I put little check marks next to ideas that get repeated.

Finally, if there's something REALLY important on the list that you don't see, suggest it. You should have a hope and dream too, so maybe you'll say that you feel like you need something in particular in order to reach your hope and dream. My hope and dream is usually to create a warm, joyful environment in which my students enjoy learning and playing.

Step 3: Consolidate The Rules

This can be time consuming, but I think it's OK to take a few short-cuts in this step. The rules have been finished, and you have a few slices of chart paper with possible rules scribbled on them. I say to the kids that their ideas will make for a great community, but that it will be very hard to remember 23948234908 rules. I then say that I see some patterns in the rules and that I think certain ones can be combined. Usually I'll say something like "'Keep your feet to yourself' and 'keep your hands to yourself' sound really similar. I think it makes sense to group these two rules into one rule."

The kids agree and we end up consolidating into 3-5 rules each year. There are always 3 rules that have to do with taking care of yourself, taking care of others, and taking care of the environment. My kids will add something like "Have fun" sometimes, but sometimes they consider that to be the same as taking care of yourself.

Some rules will fit into more than one category. That's OK. Don't get worked up about that.

I find that the best way to consolidate the rules is to circle each rule with a corresponding color. So, all rules that have to do with taking care of the environment (like putting the caps on markers, cleaning up after class, being careful with the magnifying glasses, etc.) are circled in green. Other categories get other colors. Then, after everything has been circled (and remember, some may have more than one color), we read all of the rules for that color and come up with a way to say it. Sometimes there are many ideas for how to word them, so do your best to guide the class to work as a team and agree. Sometimes you may have to vote. The big idea is that we now know EXACTLY what each rule means.

Step 4: Publish The Rules

Now is the fun part!! You get to publish your class rules. I actually break my class into several groups and have each group make a poster of the rules. I have one bigger poster that everyone signs, and we talk about things we can draw on our rule posters. I usually write the rules in pencil and have the kids trace them. I remind my class that the poster is meant to be a reference to use all year, so I suggest that they do not draw on the actual words. They might draw pictures of kids sharing, clean materials, etc.

Finally, it's time to hang these in the room. One goes on the front of my door without fail. Another will sometimes go on the back of my door. One is very visible from the meeting area. Some teachers even make traveling rules that children are responsible for bringing to lunch, recess, art, gym, etc. I think that 4 or 5 posters should be plenty.

Now, when you deal with managing student behavior later, you've got some GREAT rules to talk about. And, yes, sometimes the rules will be broken. But now,  you've got concrete ideas to refer to when you give positive reinforcement or redirect students. The kids feel pride in the rules they created and are more likely to follow them. The tone for the community is being established as a place in which students are respected decision-makers with feelings that matter.

How do you create your rules? Do you ever run into problems using this method? Comment below!

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