Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Rules and Norms – Classroom Management

At the beginning of the school year we talk a lot about what it means to be a community.  As we learn the routines of the classroom and of the school, we discuss doing things to keep us safe and doing things to keep everyone happy.  This is the basis for the classroom management framework in our room.  As the students get to know each other and my expectations in school, we work together to develop two lists that will hang on the wall throughout the year.
The first list is our Rules for Safety list.  These are non-negotiables and we do them to keep ourselves and our friends safe throughout the day.  We also develop our Norms for Community list.  Norms are, as described by Wikipedia, "the rules that a group uses for appropriate and inappropriate values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors.”  Following our student-defined norms helps our classroom run smoothly all day as students work together and independently, and as they learn to cooperate, collaborate, and take charge of their friendships and learning.
Below are the two posters as they have been developed through October.  There is still blank space at the bottom of each since we often find that new norms or needs for rules emerge throughout the year.

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I have used other behavior management programs in past years.  After working with each, I’ve decided that they don’t fit with the social and emotional needs of the students I work with and that they don’t fit with my teaching style (and my busy day).  In the following paragraphs, I’ll briefly talk about each and how they worked for me.
  The stoplight and ticket systems are popular classroom management tools in elementary classrooms.  Students typically imagebegin the day on GREEN and move their name (card, tile, clothespin, etc) to yellow after one infraction.  After two or whatever set number of infractions, students move to red and receive a consequence, often going to the office.  The card system may have additional colors, allowing students additional warnings or minor consequences before hitting RED and the ultimate consequence.  image
I did not like either of these systems when I worked with them.  The number one complaint I had about them was that they are both very visual.  By this I mean that EVERYONE can see the charts.  While I do believe it is important for a child to take responsibility for his or her actions, I do not believe it is important to showcase a child’s ‘bad day’ for anyone who visits our classroom to see.  I found that this often caused the child who had to move colors to continue being ‘bad’ and not make an effort to improve, especially if there was no option to earn back a color later in the day.
I also could not be consistent with making students change their colors.  If one of our rules or norms was to raise a hand to speak, but then a child asked what page we should be on and someone sitting next to him told him the answer, did I have him flip a card?  He broke a rule, but one of my goals in the classroom is to build community, and he was helping a friend….what was I supposed to do?  These systems didn’t fit with my beliefs.
After this, I tried the rainbow system where students built rainbows when I acknowledged them for doing positive things imagerather than negative things.  This helped the student who’d just get more mad when I ‘flipped a color’ on the old color chart, but it also brought its own set of difficulties.
One day when parents were visiting the room, I heard one ask why so-and-so student didn’t have a rainbow yet, but the others all did.  What that parent didn’t know, and I didn’t have time to explain right then, was that our rainbows were built over and over again, and that student had just completed a rainbow and taken it down to start working on the next. What did that parent think about the child (who wasn’t hers) and the child’s behavior?  Was it any of her business?  No.  Here we ran into the visual problem again – other people don’t need to know how each child’s day is going.
I also found that I couldn’t be consistent with the rainbows.  How did I choose what actions to recognize and allow students to add a color to their rainbow?  Did I recognize every good action?  We could have spent all day saying nice things to others, picking up pencils off the floor, and holding the door open for others, just to build our rainbows.  (Trust me, they tried this)  Also, wasn’t my goal to build classroom community anyway?  Did I have to ‘reward’ the students for doing things I expected them to do?  The rainbows didn’t work for me.
I was constantly reflecting on what it was I wanted the students to do.  Finally, I realized that if they would just meet my expectations (see those rules and norms again), we would have a happy and safe classroom community where we could work on social and academic goals and not on recording every positive or negative action.
For me, setting my expectations and then teaching, modeling, and having students practice---and being CONSISTENT---has helped everything.  I no longer record daily actions unless there is an infraction that warrants it.  Parents and students understand that my expectation is that the students will behave in a socially responsible way to allow themselves and their friends opportunity to interact with each other and learn.  I spend my time working with the students and not documenting their behavior…and we are all happy.
That’s our room in a nutshell.  In future posts I will talk about parent communication, student agendas, consequences, and other management systems and philosophies.
Please check out these resources for more thoughts, reflections, and motivations.
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Happy teaching,



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