Classroom Management and Discipline - Classroom Rules and Expectations

Bulletin boards are ready, name tags are in place, and pencils are sharpened.  It's just in the nick of time, as school starts tomorrow!  The first day of school, such an important day for setting the tone for the rest of the year and the topic for my next post in my Classroom Management and Discipline Series.  Let's talk about classroom rules and expectations.  

Classroom Rules & Expectations

After a name game and a couple ice breaker activities from my First Week of School Activities Set, I introduce my students to the rules and discipline policy that help to ensure our classroom is an effective learning environment.  First, I pass out the rules letter from my Welcome Back to School Letters to Parents Set and go over what the rules of our classroom will be.  I know many people believe the students should come up with the rules themselves in order to have more ownership over them, and I have done that before.  I have found no difference in how the students respond to the rules.  I think that's probably because by fifth grade, students know what the rules of most any classroom will be.

After discussing the rules of our classroom, I explain to the students what the consequences are for breaking the rules.  It's important for students to know up front what will happen when they choose to break a rule.  In my classroom, the first time you break a rule you get a warning.  The second time (within the same day) means you will lose 5 minutes of your recess.  You will lose your entire recess if you get a third warning in a day, and the fourth would mean you have to call your parents.  A fifth warning in a day results in a trip to see the principal.  I make sure to also explain to my students that some behaviors can result in skipping steps.  For example, if a student were to purposely hurt another student physically, I would not just give them a warning.  It would likely result in a loss of their entire recess and/or a trip to see the principal.

Something that I have found very useful is having a system for recording the warnings students get throughout the year.  I use excel spreadsheets that are already set up with my consequences across the top.  Each student has their own page.  If a student gets a warning, I jot a quick note on a sticky note, and then later I record it on their excel spreadsheet.  This is extremely useful in many ways.  I use this to communicate with parents about a pattern of behavior over time.  Sometimes I print out the warnings a student has had and send them home.  I look at each student's warnings at report card time when deciding on citizenship and behavior indicators.

My Behavior Management Spreadsheets Freebie is a set of 33 spreadsheets you can use to record your students' warnings.  Simply right click on the tabs at the bottom to rename each page with a student's name.  Use the warnings I have at the top or write in your own.  Then just copy and paste them onto each page.

I show this spreadsheet to my students on the first day when I'm going over the consequences.  I do think it makes an impression on them that all of their behavior warnings for the year will be recorded. After I talk to my students about the rules and consequences, I tell them about Fun Friday.  Fun Friday is an extra recess I offer my students each week.  In order to earn Fun Friday, they must have all their work turned in, they must have their planner signed at least four out of the five days that week, and they must have two or fewer warnings that week.  I have found Fun Friday to be a powerful tool with my fifth graders.  Often times, students check in with me on Thursday or Friday to see how many warnings they have had so far that week.

I make sure parents are always kept in the loop about my discipline policy and Fun Friday by sending home letters at the beginning of the year which I ask them to sign.  I also send home a note each Friday to the parents of students who miss Fun Friday.

The most important part of your classroom management and discipline comes after you have gone over it with your class.  It is the consistent enforcement of your rules.  Only with consistency will your students be able to learn to manage their own behavior.  Here's an example of what I mean.  Talking while the teacher is talking is often a problem with fifth graders who are very social beings.  It is my expectation that students never talk while I'm talking to the class.  If students talk while I'm instructing, I give them a warning EVERY time.  It does not matter which student it is or what they are talking about.  Sometimes I have a student say something like, "But I was asking for a pencil."  My response is, "I'm sorry, but I can't stop instruction each time someone talks to ask them what they are talking about."  Students quickly learn to use nonverbal communication to do things like borrow a pencil.

So, when should you start giving students warnings?  The first day of school after you have gone over your rules and consequences.  You need to let students know from day one that you will consistently enforce the classroom rules.  So, no matter who it is, the warning must be given.  And by warning I mean a quiet statement to the student.  I never yell at my students or snap at them.  I calmly tell them that they have a warning and why they have it.  "Jake, you have a warning for talking while I'm talking."  It is not my goal to humiliate my students in class.  It can be difficult to give that first warning on the first day of school, but I make myself do it.  The alternative is being a teacher who sometimes gives warnings for certain behaviors and sometimes doesn't.  So, kids learn that they can get away with behaviors for a while until you get really annoyed, and then you will start giving warnings.  I don't believe that is a fair way to treat students.  They shouldn't have to guess your mood to know if they will get a warning or not.

A long time ago, a colleague of mine asked me, "How do you stop your kids from talking while you are talking?"  This is how, give warnings for it every time from day one.  Another problem you may have is there are so many students who need a warning, you don't know where to begin.  This is a typical scenario in my back to school nightmares!  One of the times that this is most likely to happen in my classroom at the beginning of the year is in the morning.  The first bell in the morning means students may enter their classrooms.  Ten minutes later, another bell rings signifying the beginning of the school day.  It is my expectation that there is no more talking after that second bell.  That way students are able to focus on their warm up and listen for announcements.  This is a time when I give a blanket reminder to the class.  So, let's say the bell rings and many students are still talking.  I will say to the class, "That was the bell.  There should be no talking."  Sometimes at the beginning of the year, when the students haven't really learned yet that I mean what I say, there will still be lots of students talking.  What I do at that point is take out a sticky note and without saying a word, start jotting down all of the students names who are still talking.  It doesn't take long for the students to see me and start wondering what I'm doing.  The talking will eventually stop and then I say, "All of these students have a warning for talking after the bell and my reminder..."

This is a handy technique for other times of day when numerous students are not doing what they are supposed to be doing.  Just take out a sticky note and start writing down names.  Soon you will hear, "Shhh!  She's writing down names!"

I hope you are off to a wonderful year with your students!

Check out the other posts in the Classroom Management & Discipline Series:

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