Teacher-determined vs. Student-determined Rules in the Classroom
As a student, I had both teachers who had us take part in creating classroom rules and those who did not. I have to admit, as a student with anxiety, I hated creating our own rules. The teacher would stand up and say something generic like, “What rules do you think we should have in the classroom?” Students were often hesitant to respond or the class clowns (the most bold and boisterous of us) would start shouting out random rules that seemed (to me) of little use. In the end, nearly always the teacher would decide for us so it seemed to me this was all simply an exercise in futility (and extremely anxiety-inducing to say the least!). As a student I wanted our teachers to establish the rules from the start and as a teacher, I have followed suit.
When a teacher presents pre-determined rules for the classroom, they are establishing themselves as the authority in the classroom (Linsin, 2014) and showing students that they have the classroom under control (Continually Learning, n.d). This is often called a teacher-centered approach, but in my opinion, it can be student-centered as this provides the structure needed for many students with anxiety, disabilities, and chaotic home environments. Communicating clearly what a teacher expects can help a classroom be “calm, supportive, and organized” which empowers students to “do their best work” (Davis, n.d). Students will realize that his authoritative approach is built “for their safety and success” (Wong, 2014, p. 32).
Of course, the establishment of predetermined rules can be used as a power play. But, just because a teacher can misuse their own rules to micromanage, manipulate behavior, or establish an authoritarian or intimidation-based classroom environment (Weber, 2006), does not mean that pre-determining rules is a bad classroom practice. I believe that the implementation of clear classroom management from the start does indeed make for effective teachers and enables them to “establish order, engage students, elicit student cooperation...to establish and maintain an environment conducive to instruction and learning” (Stronge, 2010, p. 67).
That said, it is clear that there are some benefits to allowing students to create classroom rules and determine consequences. First, taking part in the process can help students feel ownership for their behavior (Hsu, 2018, para. 1). Second, students will have the opportunity to use their agency appropriately. This will help them “learn to make good choices by having the chance to choose, not by following directions” (Kohn, 1995). Third, ideally students who take part in creating the rules will be less likely to forget the rules. Their participation “leaves less room for confusion” (Harmon, 2017).
However, for this approach to be successful, I believe that we as teachers should give categories or guidelines to spark a rule brainstorming session. (This will help avoid the open-ended, free-for-all chaos that I experienced in the classroom growing up.) For example, the five categories Curwin (2014) listed on Edutopia: Academic, Social, Procedural, Cultural, and Personal seem like effective guideposts. Presenting these categories to the class can help students know the priorities of a classroom and explore rules within these contexts. A cultural rule could be to always respect a fellow student’s religious garb. An academic rule could be to turn in homework at 8:30 am each morning to be on time. Students’ involvement to a limited extent can help them take ownership for their behavior, practice using their agency appropriately, and be more apt to remember the rules.
Continually Learning. (n.d.) Classroom Rules and Consequences. https://continuallylearning.com/classroom-rules-and-consequences/
Curwin, R. (2014, August 5). The 5 Critical Categories of Rules. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/blog/5-critical-categories-of-rules-richard-curwin
Davis, K. (n.d.) Classroom Ideas to Reduce Anxiety. Indiana University Bloomington. https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/irca/articles/classroom-ideas-to-reduce-anxiety.html
Kohn, A. (1995). Discipline is the problem - not the solution. https://www.alfiekohn.org/article/discipline-problem-solution/
Harmon, W. (2017, August 8). Create Your Classroom Rules WITH Your Students for a Powerful Start to the Year. The Art of Education. https://theartofeducation.edu/2017/08/08/3-benefits-creating-classroom-expectations-students/
Hsu, S. (2018, November 27). Making Rules Alongside Students. Eastern Washington University. https://inside.ewu.edu/managementtoolbox/making-rules-alongside-students/
Strong, J. (2010). Evaluating what good teachers do: Eight research-based standards for assessing teacher excellence, p. 67. http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/univ-people-ebooks/detail.action?docID=1337530
Weber, W. A. (2006). Classroom management. In M. Hue & L. Wai-shing (eds.), Classroom management: Creating a positive learning environment, 2008, p. 89. http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/univ-people-ebooks/detail.action?docID=677299
Wong, H.K. (2014). Proceed with intent: At the heart of a classroom management plan is practice and more practice of key procedures. Instructor, 124(3), p. 32.