Back to School Classroom Rules! September 03 2009

Effective classroom management starts the very First Day of School, so I don’t let too many hours pass before we have the “Classroom Rules” discussion. For the most part, kids have been in school for a couple of years by the time they get to me, so the discussion is basically the same from year to year.

Usually right after first recess, we launch into guidelines for appropriate classroom behavior. The discussion follows a path I’ve set out in my mind beforehand - If we were in a courtroom, I would be held in contempt for leading the witness.

But I know myself as a teacher pretty well by now, and I know what I can tolerate and what absolutely drives me crazy – I want to limit the crazy as much as I can. How? Decide in advance what you’d like the classroom rules to be.

Part of a System

First, I consider what the kids know as the School Rules – ours are Be Safe/Be Respectful/Be Kind. These three lend themselves to a chart, with each rule across the top. Then, during our class discussion, we plug in appropriate behaviors we want to see in the correct column. It reminds students that our behavior isn’t just important in this one room, but across our community.

In one of my earlier blog posts, I wrote about creating a system to help with classroom management. If you have a system, consider how you can work this discussion of classroom rules in with the system you’ve already planned. For my class money system, we had to figure out the most important 3 rules. On a different day, we decided what behaviors would be rewarded or fined according to those rules. 

Pick Your Favorites

I pick the top three rules that I absolutely cannot live without, and write them down on a sticky note to be sure to remember to incorporate them.  During the class discussion, I take notes on a piece of butcher paper I’ve hung across the entire width of the white board. I give most of the discussion to the kids, but make sure that my top three are included somehow in some form. This way, the kids have buy-in through the process of deciding about classroom rules, and I’m happy as well.


Maybe not forever, but definitely all year long. Transcribe the rules your class generates on a piece of poster paper and hang it up for all to see. Sometimes, in lieu of verbal warnings, I simply point to the poster where I’ve written our classroom rules on the first day of school. As the school year progresses, it might also be necessary to add to the poster or take away a rule that isn’t working – this is a great lesson in how, in reality, life changes.

Many elements of daily classroom life that we think of as “Rules” might actually be teachers' personal preferences. For example, one of my colleagues absolutely cannot stand a lack of manners in her room shown in the form of “please” and “thank you.” While kids, for the most part, know about appropriate classroom behavior, what they’re really learning during the first few weeks of school are your limits and preferences. Knowing what you want beforehand makes for a smoother September for everyone!