Rules in Schools

The idea that if a rule does not merit a major consequence, it does not merit being a rule applies in schools too.  Establishing rules that are not enforced or, worse, are only infrequently enforced is more than a waste of energy.  It’s actually counterproductive, accommodating a certain lawlessness that is ultimately corrosive.

I see this in the “Raise your hand” rule too.  It seems to me that students should not be allowed to shout out answers, except in chorus.  It is much too difficult and takes too much management to allow shouting out of answers sometimes but not other times.  However, rare is the teacher who consistently enforces this rule and, therefore, rare is the classroom where shouting out is absent.

In my classroom, non-verbal symbols will be followed with rigor.  Likewise, shouting out will not be tolerated, rewarded, or even occasionally condoned.  The central rule in my classroom will be respect and major violations of that principle will receive quick, firm intervention.  Minor departures from the principle of respect will not be treated as rules violations.  Rather, they will be treated as teaching moments or ignored, as the case may be. 

What will not happen in my classroom is the proclamation and subsequent ongoing violation of rules.  Any rule discovered to be unworthy of consistent enforcement, will be considered unworthy to be a rule.


It seems to me, that the breakdown of the non-verbal cue environment is frequently a function of fatigue. 

After a certain period of years or after a certain number of routines are imposed, it just takes too much energy to demand consistent obedience.  Unfortunately, this leaves those routines in a broken state, halfway between useful and purposeless.  The students sense that lack of seriousness and the routines become mere speed bumps, occasional interruptions to be tolerated but not respected.

One of the very first principles we established for raising our daughter was to draw the circle of rules tight enough to cover the major infractions but loose enough to need only infrequent enforcement.  This was based on the observation and belief that kids have considerably more energy to chafe against relatively pointless restrictions than parents have to enforce them.  This leads to the “Don’t, don’t, don’t… ok” syndrome that eats many parents alive.  We try to only establish rules that we are willing to us overwhelming force to enforce.  If it is not worth a major consequence, it is not a rule in our house.