Those who know me personally know that I am a rule follower. Always have been, always will be. I think rules are important. Very important. Heck, when I text, I spell out all words, use proper punctuation, and capitalize appropriately. Why? Because those are the grammatical rules I was taught. I've been teased for my firm stance on adhering to rules. I've been told, "Lighten up, Brent. Don't be such a stickler." Here are my thoughts on the subject...
Rules must be followed. When rules aren't enforced, they're not rules -- they're suggestions. If there is no consequence for not following a rule, then it's not a rule, because rules must be followed. Suggestions, on the other hand, are things we'd like people to do, not expect them to do. If you're not going to enforce a rule, get rid of it.
A good rule is not arbitrary. Rather, it is put in place for a specific reason. From the time we were small children, we've had safety rules guiding our behavior. Don't run with scissors. Look both ways before crossing the street. Don't stick objects in an electrical outlet. All common rules there for our protection.
Rules must be enforced by everyone in the organization. Inconsistent rule enforcement sends the wrong message. For example, fighting is prohibited in all schools, and I think it's pretty safe to say this is a rule that is consistently enforced. But what about, say, a "no gum" rule? If Teacher A enforces the school's "no gum" policy but Teacher B allows students to chew gum, what is the result? First, Teacher A is going to be perceived as the "bad guy" for not allowing students to chew gum. Second, students are sent the message that some rules are important (no fighting) and some aren't (no gum), and that they get to choose when and where they follow certain rules. Yes, there are major and minor categories of rules, but all rules should be important. That's why they're rules.
Beware of the danger in suspending rules. When a rule is suspended ("Today you don't have to follow the rule"), it compromises the integrity of the rule. Again, it sends the message to students that on every other day, the rule is important, but not today. This is why I never used homework passes. I didn't want to send my students the message that homework is important and must be completed unless you have a pass. I felt that suspending the rule on homework would undermine the importance of the activity.
The Three C's: Clarity, Consistency, and Consequences. Without these three things, students can't be sure of what to expect. Regardless of whether or not they'll admit it, students want (and need) rules. They want the structure and security rules provide. Clarity, consistency, and consequences are imperative, because without them, a fourth C is produced -- confusion.
So now I must ask myself this question -- "Are all of my rules, both at school and at home, good rules?" Something to think about.
Thanks for reading.
I’ve previously written about the importance of classroom management (you can read my post “If They Aren’t Listening” here). I firmly believe it’s one of the foundations of effective instruction, and in this post, I want to share one of my favorite and most frequently used techniques in my classroom management toolbox.
Teachers frequently give multi-step directions. For example, while in the classroom, I might have given my students this directive to transition from one subject to another – “Please put away your math book, take out your science book, and open it to page 85.”
Now, in a situation like this, some students will hear the first part of the directions (“Put away your math book”), immediately put the math book away, and not hear the other two instructions. While the rest of the class would then have its science books out, these few students would be sitting at their cleared desks, wondering what to do next (much to the chagrin of the teacher). The teacher would then have to repeat the directions to ensure that everyone is ready to move on. If you’re a teacher, this situation probably sounds familiar.
While in the classroom, here’s what I did to try and prevent situations like this from happening. Before practically every direction I gave, I first said these magic words – When I say, “Go.” For example, with the instructions previously mentioned, here’s what I would have said:
“When I say, ‘Go’……Please put away your math book, take out your science book, and open it to page 85.”
Beginning on the first day of school, I trained my students to wait for that “Go” before doing anything. Did it take a while for them to learn the routine? Yep. Did students still sometimes miss a direction? Yes. But by using this classroom management technique, I was able to dramatically reduce wasted time involved in having to repeat directions. It only took a second or two to preface my directions with these four simple words, but the time saved was measured in minutes (and over the course of a school year, hours). I used this technique for so long that it became second nature to me. On a couple occasions I remember giving my students a direction, only to have them just sit there and do nothing. I recall staring back at them thinking What are they waiting for? Then one of the students told me, “You forgot to say, ‘Go’.”
If you’re looking for an easy way to save time in your classroom, give this technique a try. Just don’t forget to say, “Go.”
Throughout my career in education, I’ve heard my share of four-letter words. Unfortunately, I’ve heard them all. But over the last few years, I’ve realized there’s another often-used, yet widely accepted, four-letter word that can be very offensive. It’s a word I’ve heard countless times from students, and it’s become a word I don’t allow when used inappropriately. To which word am I referring? Just.
Ironically, this is one of my favorite and least favorite words, all depending on how it is used. When defined as “guided by truth, reason, and fairness,” it’s one of my favorite words. Injustice is one of my biggest pet peeves, so in this sense, I love the word just. Personally and professionally, I strive to create environments that are just. But when the word is defined as “only or merely” and precedes something important, the word rubs me the wrong way.
Let me explain. Too often I hear the word just used to excuse poor behavior choices. For example:
“But I did my homework. I just forgot to show my work.”
“I didn’t hit him. I just pushed him.”
“I was just kidding when I said that to her.”
“I got the right numbers. I just put the decimal point in the wrong place.”
When used in this way, the word just is intended to minimize the importance or significance of whatever follows the word in the sentence.
“I just forgot to show my work.” This implies that showing work isn’t important, despite the fact that it was a requirement of the teacher.
“I just pushed him.” This sends the message that pushing another student is an acceptable form of behavior.
“I was just kidding when I said that to her.” So being unkind and disrespectful to a classmate is okay because you said, after the fact, it was simply a joke?
“I got the right numbers. I just put the decimal point in the wrong place.” The answer is still wrong. Close doesn’t count.
In addition to academics, I’m a firm believer that educators must teach students to be responsible, and not only for things like remembering to complete their homework every day. Students must learn to take responsibility for all of their behavior choices. Allowing them to excuse inappropriate behavior with the word just is not doing them any favors, because the real world doesn’t work like that.
Suppose a banker tells his supervisor, “I entered all the right digits into the computer. I just put the decimal point in the wrong place.” The supervisor’s probable response? “You’re just fired.”
Cooperative grouping. Direct instruction. Use of manipulatives. Technology infusion. I’ve often heard teachers argue that one kind of lesson is better than others. Personally, I believe there are merits to each of the aforementioned types of lessons and that teachers should use all of them. Using only one type of teaching strategy is like taking only one type of vitamin. Sure it’s good for you, but your body needs a variety of vitamins to keep your body healthy.
While it is definitely important to vary our teaching strategies to ensure our students “get all their vitamins,” it is just as important (if not more important) to remember one thing – it all starts with classroom management. One of the first pieces of advice I like to give to new or prospective teachers is this:
If they aren’t listening, it doesn’t matter what you’re saying.
Sometimes it’s easy for us as teachers to fall in love with the lesson, neglecting the question – “Are the students engaged?” I know I’ve been guilty of it. I could have crafted the “perfect” lesson, but if my students are doodling, spinning rulers on their pencil points, talking with classmates, or simply staring out the window, how perfect is my lesson, really? Think of it this way. One could spend two or three hours writing amazingly detailed sub plans. But what happens if the substitute teacher doesn’t read them? All that hard work went for nothing. In the same way, spending two or three hours on a lesson that is delivered without effective classroom management can lead to teaching without learning.
Should we strive to craft great lessons that incorporate a variety of teaching strategies? Absolutely. But let us not forget that a lesson is only as good as the atmosphere in which it is delivered. It’s been asked, if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? Allow me to put an educational spin on that question…if students aren’t listening, does a teacher’s voice make a sound?
Brent has worked in the field of education as a teacher and administrator for 25 years. He is currently Principal of Alta Murrieta Elementary School in Murrieta, California. Read more about Brent here.
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