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So, I’m literally psycho about classroom management strategies. As you may have read in some of my earlier posts about Classroom Routines and my favorite Classroom Management Tricks, I’m “un poco loco” ( a little bit crazy) about keeping student behavior under control. This great addiction is what helps me to continue in maintaining my “Happy Teacher” status.” I need my sanity to continue this work and one immense advocate I have in this fight are my simple, yet transformative classroom rules.
Oh, the traditional classroom rules poster- how I pity thee! Picture the humble thing there (as cute as can be) blending in on a vibrant Primary classroom wall already overwhelmed with colors, calendars and alphabet posters. Whose classroom are you envisioning here? Maybe your own? That’s perfectly okay, because I’m not putting anyone down for their decorating decisions. Instead, I’m questioning your engagement with that poster and the role it plays (or a lack thereof) for your students. Do your students know what that poster says? How often do you reference it and how apt are you to enforce the statements of expectation written on it?
If your students aren’t able to locate and easily recall your class rules, they are no more effective than the adorable inspirational puppy poster you used to fill an empty gap in your décor. I’m only being hard on you because I once had to be hard on myself in this same way. As it turns out, the vibrant Casron Delenosa Rules poster I bought as a first-year Teacher prepping my first classroom (I can still feel the excitement) wasn’t money well spent at the time. I had yet to enter the educator role and therefore had yet to come face-to-face with real behavior issues. Rookie mistake! If I had that same poster now, I’d probably host a sacrificial burning ritual to really demonstrate my turn in thinking – but thankfully I’m not one to hold grudges and don’t own a lighter. If you feel like burning yours after reading this, try to resist the urge. Just rip it instead!
From personal growth and experience, I’m here to proclaim to you that your classroom rules have a hidden transformative power when used in the correct manner. They can stop being a wall-space holder in your classroom and can instead become a hub for student focus and attention in a time of questionable action. Guess what else? You can even KEEP your adorable themed poster of rules (pending their effectiveness) and begin to use them in a way that can aid your classroom environment and regulate student behavior.
Being the Happy Teacher that I am today, I’m ecstatic to share with you how to make this so. My hope is that you take this information and implement this new mindset in your classroom and feel liberation. I want to help others- that is my goal here- but YOU have to be actionable if any benefit is to ensue. With that being said, let me tell you how to unlock the power of simple class rules.
Step #1- Mindful Design
If your classroom rules haven’t played an important role in your classroom management game- it is time to revise or even re-create them from scratch. If you work in Primary, you know our place in education is unique- as should be our rules compared to other grade levels. Effective classroom rules for students in Primary (Pre-K, Kindergarten, First and Second Grade) MUST contain the following qualities:
Simple is supreme when it comes to classroom rules for primary students. If they can’t understand it, they can’t heed to it. Take the initiative to cut down any current rules into simple, easy-to-digest terms for your little learners. Don’t use any language that isn’t naturally used by a student in their regular conversations. (Some students do have advanced vocabulary, but that isn’t a norm.) This is why the poster that I bought from the Teacher store was so useless to me. It contained words like “personal property”, “directions” and “respect.” These words may seem simple to you and I, but remember that most incoming Kindergarten students don’t know what the letter Aa is. (Scary thought, right?) When I made the switch to simplify my rules, I cut out ALL formal language and replaced it with language that was friendly for 5 year olds. “Follow directions promptly” was easily replaced with “Listen to your Teacher.”
Cut-out the fluff and be concise.. The attention span of the average adult these days is around 12 minutes. (Find research.) What does that mean for our youth, who are complete victims to focus-robbing technologies like iPads and Fortnite? It means that we don’t have time to waste with fluff-filled rules. Any time you can shave off of rule-review is time well saved. What use are your rules if you can’t keep their attention long enough to review them? I’ll spell it out for you, my friend: U-S-E-L-E-S-S. After my horrible failure to implement effective rules during my first year, I re-created new rules that were very concise in nature. So, the rule “Be kind and respectful to everyone around you” transformed into the simple, yet completely functioning “Be nice.” Same rule- yet no unneeded fluffy stuff. Our students don’t need complete thoroughness to successfully regulate their behaviors- they only need good understanding of our expectations.
Although concise, your rules must be all-encompassing. I know this sounds like an oxymoron, but it really isn’t. Although short and concise, you do need those little zingers to be efficient in covering all of the bad-behavior bases. Choose rules that can translate in many different ways so that they will cover the majority of negative behaviors that will occur in the classroom. I only have 5 class rules within my own classroom- but have NEVER found a negative behavior that wasn’t already covered within them. For example, rule #1 is “Be nice.” To be nice means to ditch any negative behavior that isn’t nice, right? That cuts out the need for rules like, “No hitting each other.” or “Respect school and personal property.” “Be nice” is very concise, yet broad in meaning. That is what you’re aiming for here.
Once your rules meet these standards, you’re ready to implement them as a daily priority.
Step #2: Provide Priority
In my personal life, I put my top-priority at the TOP of my day. When I first get out of bed, I spend about 30 minutes reading and meditating on the Bible. It is a PRIORITY and very few things can squeeze that time out of my schedule. I will be honest though, it took some strenuous habit formation to get me to do that every day. (Lord forgive me, but reading about Old Testament Kings and their tendencies to worship golden cows isn’t the easiest job at 4 AM.) Here is the thing though, I claim that as an important priority in my life and I do it no-matter what. I know its power to transform my thinking and behavior, so I put it at the TOP of my day. So, I’m suggesting that you apply this same concept to the classroom.
Put your class rule REVIEW among your TOP priorities of the day and they will transform student behavior. How so? Students will notice (maybe subconsciously) that you give the rules this vital attention every day, at a time when they are most alert and absorbent. You may not verbalize this as the purpose, but they’re likely to notice that it comes before Reading, Writing, Math and Science- automatically interpreting it as more important than all of those things. Without structure, all of those things will fall apart anyway, right? Our class rules provide much needed structure and so, we treat them as priority.
Create a rule-ritual with consistent cues. During this step, you’ll want to create a rule startup ritual. that you repeat consistently day-after-day. This simply means you should do the same motions every morning leading up to this priority. This will help students to associate this sequence of events (and its cues) with the upcoming rule review. After this ritual is repeated consistently, this part of the day will become habit (aka priority.)
In my own classroom, the rituals have changed over the years but it looks something like this:
Students enter the room and put things away –> Students are quietly completing bell work at their seats during restroom visits –> I ring a bell to cue bell-work clean up –>Students go to the carpet after clean up and sit quietly –> I give a cheery GOOD MORNING GREETING –> We recite the rules and discuss them (along with consequences) as needed.
Beyond creating a start-up ritual (routine), here are some other ways you can solidify rule-review as a priority:
- Place your rules in a central viewing point in your classroom
- Place RULE REVIEW on your printed daily schedule
- Ask students who enter late to do a silent self-review before beginning any work
- Verbalize and demonstrate the importance of this routine to students. (‘First, let’s review our rules and then we’ll discuss that.” or “I have some AWESOME news to share with you, but not until we review our rules.”
Step #3: Include Interaction
I may have lost you earlier when I mentioned “rule review.” What a terribly boring term! (I probably should considering editing that, but nah.) Here is the thing though, our interactions with our Class Rules don’t have to be mediocre and painful. I’m suggesting that this can actually be a FUN daily experience for your students. How do you accomplish this? Make them interactive!
Interactive Learning has many researched benefits, including higher retention of content information. If student behavior has such a high impact on our classroom goals, isn’t it obvious that we should want our class rules to be the most RETAINED information of their day? Yes sir’ ee Bob! The great news is, making your rules interactive is the easiest-thing-ever-in-life. To accomplish this, you’ll just need to add a little movement to your daily rule review.
I became a very “active” Teacher after I realized the physiological aid that reoccurring movement could provide for my students when learning their letters & sounds. After realizing that a few fun motions paired with content could up their content retention and make them super-successful, I very quickly applied this method to every other area- including my rule-review. Guess what? Good behaviors quickly became more prevalent and I found myself spending less and less time reminding students of my behavioral expectations.
To make rules interactive and fun, create simple motions your students can perform that demonstrate their meaning. These motions should be easy and make abstract ideas more concrete. (For example, holding your hand up to your ear for the word “listen.”) After you’ve demonstrated and practiced these motions with your students several times, they can become actively involved in their daily rule-review and will unknowingly internalize those expectations in no time flat.
To demonstrate just how impactful this method is to memorization- let me tell you this: I moved from Kindergarten to 2nd Grade Reading a few years ago and ended up re-teaching a group of former students. Believe it or not, although they had a whole year in 1st Grade (some two years due to retention), they already knew my class rules and could recall all of the motions. It was like they had never left me for a single day! This only reiterated to me the power of kinesthetic associations to help my students remember the most important concepts.
One last nugget of gold here!
Once your rules are interactive and have been internalized by your students, you have the option to SAVE YOURSELF A LOT OF BREATH. What do I mean by this? Well, when you see a student breaking a rule, you can stop them in the process simply by using the motion for whatever rule they are not following. For example, if Jimmy is poking his partner across the room and he and I make eye contact, I simply motion the rule “Keep your hands to yourself” and Jimmy knows exactly what to do. Yay for not having to use my already overused voice so much! (You can see a more animated explanation of this in the videos included in this post!)
My Rule-Review Routine
Want to see the concepts here in action? Check this out! You’ll notice that my rules are as simple as can be, are a top-priority of my morning and are interactive for my students. I do practice what I preach, friends.
You’ll also see the motions demonstrated slowly, in case you want to use them in your classroom!
Like my rules? You can get a FREE RULES POSTER in your email ASAP.
If you’re looking for more color options, consider checking out my SIMPLE CLASS RULES product here on TpT! It includes desk plates for easy student reference!
More color options and name customization!
Happy Teachers, don’t run off just yet! Share your expertise! What is your relationship with class rules? What expert insight do you have to add here? Please, take a moment and share your wisdom in the COMMENTS below. You never know who’s classroom you could change with a few moments of your time. I can’t wait to read and reply to your thoughts!
As always, I hope this information helps to strengthen your happiness in the classroom! Take these ideas and run with them, Teacher friends!