Classroom Rules Revisited
I was in Office Depot the other day looking for some 3x5 index cards to use during seminars. As I wandered around, I found a display of classroom materials. One of the items hanging from the wall was a ready-made kit for creating a bulletin board about classroom rules.
Two things struck me: terminology and message.
1. The Meaning Behind the Terminology
Why do we insist on using the word Rules when we refer to our behavioral expectations for students? I realize that it's been that way forever; nonetheless, using the term Rules merely reinforces the Old School obedience-based classroom culture.
Thoreau taught us that "language is a volatile truth." With that in mind, I'm of the opinion we need to move away from the word Rules and toward something that is a bit more enlightened and inspirational. And if the label we decide to use is indicative of a classroom that values self-control and independence, then we'll really be heading in the right direction.
My first thought was to use the word Standards. But the more I played around with it, the more it sounded as if I were referring to something academic.
My next thought was Goals. After all, you need to be able to set and meet reasonable goals if you expect to be successful in our great country. The problem with the word Goals, though, is that the whole thing sounds optional. Maybe I will; maybe I won't.
My current favorite is Student Responsibilities. It conveys so many good things.
For one, it puts the ball squarely in the student's court. And if there's one thing I've learned about helping students become more successful it's this: we've got to stop doing all of the heavy lifting. It's actually counter-productive to expend more effort and energy to help a student succeed than the student is expending himself.
Another issue is the focus of the label. When you employ the word Rules, you're directing the majority of the attention to your post listed of behaviors. When you use the phrase Student Responsibilities, however, you're putting the focus on the student himself and his behavior. It may seem like a minor point but it's huge in helping to move everything into the realm of independence, autonomy, and self-determination.
One last point is a simple one. What parent could argue with the concept of responsibility? The very fact that the word is being used to identify classroom behavior goes a long way to get parents on board and less combative.
2. The Subconsicous Message
One of the banners in the packet I saw looked like this:
At first glance, it makes sense. But what if the banner looked like this:
Hmmmm. Two different messages.
The first example is authoritative. Do this or else.
The second one is affirmative. Every time the student looks at it, he's reaffirming a positive attitude and a key trait to success in the classroom.
A minor point, I know. But why not make an effort to make the messages as positive as possible? All it takes is a teacher willing to question the efficacy of traditional practices and look at things in a new way.