First, let me start by saying that yes, I do talk about rules with my kiddos at the beginning of the year. Of course! I just don't do it the first day... or even the second day... or maybe even the first week. We usually start school on a Wednesday, so we have 3 days the first week, then Labor Day week which is 4 days, then our first full week of 5 days. (Love the way that works!) I usually spend time at the end of the second week bringing up rules. Why so late? Here's my reasoning:
I want the rules in our classroom to be meaningful to my students - and I want THEM to be invested in the rules. But we can't do that if we don't know what kinds of things will be going on in our classroom and what we want to accomplish during the year. A classroom that values small group work, critical thinking and independent learning is going to have rules that look very different than a classroom where the teacher is solely the one in charge!
I do a lot with the Responsive Classroom model in my classroom. Student choice, natural consequences, classroom community, social skills.... those are all an important part of my classroom. As a part of this approach, I start the year by talking about our "Hopes and Dreams." What do each of us want to accomplish this year? What went well last year in first grade that we might want to continue? What do we want to change?
(The planning sheet is from Kelli over at Tales of a Tenacious Teacher.)
After we have come up with our hopes and dreams (this takes a couple days and I do them for our classroom as a whole, as well as each individual student), then we can start talking about rules! What kind of classroom do we need to have in order to be able to accomplish the things we said we wanted to do? Everyone has sooo many ideas, so we start small.
I pair students up and give them small pieces of colored paper. (Colored paper is fun and there are always a few pieces in the scrap basket in the teacher's room from someone's copy mistake :-) Their job is to write down up to 5 rules they think we should have in the room.
Yes, the rules are usually stated in a negative way and many of them are either VERY obvious, or ones the students have had in past classrooms that they are just repeating. Now it's time to fix that!
I put two pairs of students together and have them really get down to work! The first job is to look at everyone's rules and put together any of them that are the same, or close. (Ex. Anything that has to do with hands on someone, goes in one pile.) Then, they need to come up with 3-5 rules that their whole group can agree on - with 2 guidelines: the rule needs to be stated POSITIVELY, and cannot be really obvious (like, "Keep your hands to yourself.") We model how to change rules to a positive (what SHOULD you do instead of what SHOULDN'T you do?) and we talk about what obvious means. I hand out sticky notes to each group (oh, the excitement!) for them to write their final rules on.
After all the groups are pretty much finished, we come back together as a class and share what we've come up. We again sort the sticky notes so similar ones are grouped together, and we refer back to our hopes and dreams and talk about how these rules can help us achieve what we want to achieve. We decide on the wording of just a few rules that will cover all the things we want to do. Finally, we have our rules!
Our rules are limited to 4-5 general ideas - be respectful, take care of materials, etc. These get posted in the room after everyone signs them. We will return to the rules each time we do something to try and meet one of our goals, as well as review them throughout the year.
But wait - we're not done yet! These rules are very broad. Just what does it mean to "be respectful?" What does it look like? How do we know if someone is following the rule? Part 2 of my "Creating Classroom Rules" posts will address how to make these broad rules more understandable for students. And if you're a PBIS school, or any school where the rules are already developed, my next post will give you some ideas for taking those rules that are already establish and breaking them down into actions.