NQT Special: Creating rules in your classroom

Written by: John Dabell | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Creating effective classroom rules is key to good behaviour. John Dabell offers some pointers

Classroom management should be kept simple, minimalistic and down to the bare bones. Things don’t need to be complicated, just a simple set of rules and consequences that are easily memorable.

If rules are to be remembered then they have to be clear, coherent and above all simple. And select your rules wisely because more rules doesn’t always equate to better behaviour.

Some teachers like to create rules together with their class. The idea is that if students have a greater hand in rule-creation, they may better relate to the rules and comply more often.

Student voice is important, but when it comes to rule-making, teachers – to an extent – do need to take charge and say what’s what and what’s not. I think that all students respond to an established structure with clear boundaries for behaviour from the outset, because having clearly specified rules helps everyone know what they are supposed to do.

Here are the rules

Michael Linsin recommends that every class has just four rules and the same four rules. In his book The Classroom Management Secret (2013), he articulates these as follows:

  1. Listen and follow instructions.
  2. Raise your hand before speaking or leaving your seat.
  3. Keep your hands and feet to yourself.
  4. Respect your classmates and your teacher.

These rules have been chosen because Linsin considers them to cover all bases in relation to behaviours that can potentially obstruct learning and the enjoyment of class life.

Note too that positive rules encourage positive interactions, while negative rules promote confrontation and punishment. The rules above convey meaning effectively, efficiently and positively. They are straightforward and precise.

Linsin also recommends that we adopt the same three consequences. These are simple, clear and coherent:

  • First time a rule is broken: warning
  • Second time a rule is broken: time-out
  • Third time a rule is broken: letter home.

In keeping with the need to be positive about rules in your classroom, some colleagues in fact dislike the use of the words “rules”, and prefer instead to rephrase them as “goals”; this is more positive in itself. For example: “Our class goal is to be respectful to our friends.”

Rules or goals, the choice is yours – but personally I am more inclined towards using rules, as this translates to other areas of life where rules are explicitly stated and not written as targets.

Consistency rules

The problem is always uniformity. Some schools struggle to achieve institutional consistency because although they may have a well-intentioned behavioural policy, there can be a chaos of rules if classes all have their own domestic house rules chugging away in the background. So remember, class rules are the school rules, plain and simple. You can’t have systems within systems.

There is no doubting the effectiveness of having just a few rules and consequences that everyone knows like the back of their hand, but can we go one step further and simplify them even more?

One possible way to do this is to follow what some schools are already doing – they’ve got it down to just three words that also double-up as school values: Ready, Respectful, Safe. Could this work in your classroom?

The RRS message is certainly simple and it encapsulates pretty much everything you need a school and its population to be. The idea comes from Pivotal Education and is one I’ve seen in a few schools now (see http://bit.ly/2zk2L5V).

The RRS message needs a bit of unpacking but essentially these are core behaviours and school-wide expectations that embody the four rules of Michael Linsin. You could couch this differently and say Respectful, Responsible and Cooperative. Whatever message you decide to go for, then this need to be visible – so that the message acts like a motto and is hard to dislodge.

Ten tips for creating classroom rules

  1. Have students unpack your school’s rules/learning principles as a starting point and explore what they stand for and how they will affect learning and progress.
  2. Live the rules, values and vision – don’t just laminate them. Demonstrate what expected behaviour looks like and what it doesn’t look like by acting out the rules cause and effect style. Teach the rules and identify specific expectations relevant to each rule. Let them role-play examples of rule-following behaviours.
  3. Be crystal clear on what the rules are and what the consequences will be if they are not followed. Emphasise that there are no exceptions and that everyone should expect to be treated exactly the same.
  4. Don’t advertise your rules as “golden rules” as this implies that there are probably half a dozen silver and bronze ones too. The rules are the rules, they don’t need gold-plating.
  5. Assume nothing – if you talk about the rules on day one don’t expect your classroom management plan to be embedded. This is a daily commitment and needs reinforcing term-by-term to ensure there is no slippage. Teach (don’t preach), model and continuously practise real examples of what you expect of students. Check for understanding and don’t assume they know it. Student compliance to the rules is tied into their ability to readily recall and recite the rules – so test them!
  6. Have great expectations and communicate your ambition for everyone to succeed in their learning without interference from anyone.
  7. Be absolutely consistent and transparent. Once the rules have been set in stone there is no deviation or relaxing. Students want clear-cut command, not wishy-washy uncertainty. Consistency will fuel equality, strengthen trust and feed positive relationships.
  8. Focus on learning and show students that you care and want them to do well. Look for the positives rather than being obsessed with what can go wrong.
  9. Support expected behaviours using a wide variety of positive reinforcement messages. Make these frequent, dynamic, genuine and enthusiastic.
  10. Build a culture of achievement and intrinsic motivation. Explain the benefits of rules and why it is important to accept that keeping them doesn’t or shouldn’t involve a tangible reward.
  • John Dabell is a teacher, teacher trainer and writer. He has been teaching for 20 years and is the author of 10 books. Visit www.johndabell.co.uk and read his previous best practice articles for SecEd via http://bit.ly/2gBiaXv

NQT Special Edition

This article has been published as part of SecEd’s autumn 2017 NQT Special Edition – eight pages of guidance, advice and practical tips for new teachers. Topics range from wellbeing, workload an work/life balance, to classroom advice, feedback tips, behaviour management and advice about your own rights and entitlements. You can download the entire eight-page section as a free pdf via http://bit.ly/2Bv5dIc


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