Teaching Tips Tuesday: Take Two

Welcome back to the weekly installment of Teaching Tips Tuesday (T3)! This is a weekly post in which readers get the chance to share their wealth of information about what works for them in the classroom, or at home in teaching their kids. Instructions on how to post something are here.

So here’s my tip of the week. I look forward to seeing what you all have to share too!

What to Post on the Walls of Your Classroom

I went to UC Berkeley for graduate school. One would assume that most UC Berkeley students have a working knowledge of social rules. But I was always amused that in the bathrooms in the Education building, they had clear signs posted that read:

Please Flush the Toilet When You Are Finished

Really? You have to post that? Does that mean that at sometime in the past, there was a problem in which groups of people in the decision-making chain decided that yes, they had to go make up little signs to tell students who already passed a rigorous admissions process that they weren’t smart enough to follow basic social rules? It appears so.

So with that in mind, I suppose that classroom teachers need to post the rules that we all assume kids know already. When I enter classrooms, I usually scan the walls, just out of curiosity. In some classrooms, there are clearly posted rules that are referred to when violations happen. In some classrooms, it looks like Barney and his gang threw up a rainbow everywhere and I get dizzy looking around. And in some classrooms, there are barren walls. I’m of the opinion that a classroom needs basic rules posted. Hey, if we Berkeley grads can’t even figure out how to use a toilet, how can we except middle school kids to know the school rules?

I recommend posting no more than 3 positively stated rules. I think it’s easier to tell kids what what we expect them to do, rather than the long list of what we don’t like (No Gum! No Interrupting! No Getting Out of Your Seat Without Permission! No! No! No!). Imagine you went to the teacher’s lounge and it said, “No complaining! No venting! No smelly dishes that could offend other’s olfactory senses!” Wouldn’t really make you want to hang out there.

If you post these three basic rules, I think you will be able to put all the little behaviors you don’t want under them.

1) Be Safe

2) Be Respectful

3) Be Responsible

I usually have the kids think of examples. It is hard to think of the positive behavior you want instead of what you want, but you can ask the kids what is the opposite. So if they say, “Don’t cuss at people” you can direct them to “Use respectful language” or “Disagree without being disagreeable.” Sometimes I even use their own language they generate, because it sticks better, as in, “Don’t be a hater!” Then, when a kid curses out another kid, you can simple point to the rule as a warning. If they continue, then you can proceed with your regular sequence of discipline events (which is worth another 47 posts, so chime in your tip for effective discipline!)

Lastly, since teachers are starting anew this January, it’s a good time to review the rules, consequences, and rewards. You might also consider picking the rule that was broken the most last semester and set up a positive group contingency, which is basically rewarding small groups for following the rule. It can be as simple as having each table with a jar and you plop in a paperclip or marble or something every time you observe them being responsible (I see table 3 is working on their first paragraph, which is very responsible). Some teachers give table points on the board when they see cooperation. Whatever system you like is fine, just be explicit at first about what you are rewarding. Also, remember that public teacher attention isn’t always rewarding for older students, so having it in a group with a decent reward that the class really likes is essential (free time always works).

Go forth and post! And remember to flush!

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Comments on Teaching Tips Tuesday: Take Two

  1. Great topic for a tip!

    A teacher reveals a great deal about themselves through their syllabus/classroom guidelines/rules.

    Mine are posted on my blog, but what’s not there is my short discussion with students on classroom rules and demeanor.

    After a while, it doesn’t even seem like a rule…just a good idea that’s part of the landscape.

    I had a sign posted on my door and on the wall in my classroom in English and Spanish: “Respect Zone/Zona De Respeto.”

    I would tell my students, when we were supposed to be reviewing “the rules” during the first days of school, that I respect them, and they will respect me. Everything flows from that, and any other rules they need to know can be found in the student handbook. (We do a short handbook review, but you have to be a recently thawed out cave person not to know and understand those expectations!)

    Transgressors get gentle reminders about respect, and along with finding out I’m on their side with standards-based grading (“fair”), and a little peer pressure, I create a positive climate wherein students feel safe and believe in me as a helper in their quest for learning rather than an adversary.

    Long story short: I advocate one classroom rule…mutual respect with a good understanding of The Golden Rule.

  2. Hugh,

    Thanks for posting! I hope Mr. Linky catches on, because teachers with practical experience give the best tips. It’s so easy to say “have structure in your classroom” but having people explain what that actually LOOKS like is great.

    Happy New Year!

  3. Casey says:

    It is so true that instead of saying no no no, we need to say what we WANT kids to do, instead of what NOT to do! Your post has brought it back to the forefront of my mind…thanks!

  4. Damian says:

    Seconding Hugh’s thought – over the span of my teaching career, my “Class Policy” handout went from a page and change to one or two bullet points: “be respectful” was the biggie, as so much else stems from that. It also didn’t hurt to have some discussion about what that meant and all the forms it could take (some students were surprised to learn that texting during class could be considered disrespectful to the teacher).

    I was hoping to see a new T3 post today, as I’ve got my contribution up on my blog this evening. Didn’t see one, so I linked back to this page instead.

    AND I flushed, so it was a day full of victories large and small for me.

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