Classroom Rules and a Productive In-Service

In-service began today. (Bye-bye, vacation! The long days of reading, sewing, organization, and mid-morning snacks will be missed…)

We talked about Wong’s The First Days of School today. Back to the basics – partly because we have a ton of new teachers, and partly because we probably all needed the refresher. So, classroom rules and procedures.

I haven’t really had rules in the past. I certainly haven’t had a poster with the rules on them. I’ve never had a class discussion creating rules for our classroom. Those are all things that you’re “supposed” to do, but they just have never felt right for who I am as a teacher and for how my classroom works with my group of kids. I try to treat them like adults until they prove I can’t, and laying down rules felt like I was disrespecting their maturity. Still, clear expectations are probably important, so this felt worthwhile.

We were told to sit with our grade level, so that we could have discussions about what rules and procedures were appropriate for the age of students we have. (Sidenote: we started doing the Fundamental Five last year, which includes small group purposeful talk, and my dean really has made an effort to include small group discussions in in-service. I appreciate this – listening all day is boring, and the fact that she practices what she preaches demonstrates integrity. If she’s willing to do something in her teaching time, I’m willing to try it for her.)

We were told that, as a grade level, we should come up with ten rules. My fellow junior/senior teachers and I panicked – ten rules? We weren’t sure we could come up with five! There are school rules, of course, but those already exist. What else needs to be said?

At this age, we decided that we value principles more than rules. There aren’t going to be a lot of classroom rules next year in college, so our goal is to teach them to govern themselves.  So we talked principles, and how to spell it out for them. It was a good conversation, and at the end, I jotted down my expectations for my students this year. (Yay, productive in-service!)

1.) Be respectful.

2.) Be responsible.

3.) Be edifying.

That’s really it. Most of my students already buy into these principles. Respect could probably cover all of that – being responsible is showing respect for yourself, and being edifying is showing respect for others. On the other hand, owning their actions and choosing edifying words are things my students struggle with sometimes, so making my expectations more explicit in those areas seems worthwhile to me. I’ll make a point of discussing this with them on the first day, but I’m still not doing a poster. It just feels too childish for these kids.

We were also reminded that rules need consequences, but you don’t want to shame a student. My standard consequence is to keep a student after class and discuss their behavior. (“Was what you did respectful?” or “What you said wasn’t edifying.”) If that doesn’t work, I’ll email the parents. I’m terrible about consistency, though, because I don’t have a way to quietly tell a student to stay, and I hate calling them out in front of everyone. (Yes, there are times everyone needs to see the problem dealt with, but it’s pretty rare for my kids to act out that badly.)

So, my plan this year: keep a pad of sticky notes that are already filled out with “See me after class.” I’ll keep this on my desk. If I need a student to stay, they get a sticky note, and I don’t have to worry about the entire class overhearing me tell a student that I need to see them. It’s between them and me. We’ll see if that helps.

We talked about procedures, too – how to start class, end class, quiet the class, handle the flow of paperwork.

I pass out papers while they’re working. (Does anyone not? What do you do?) I used to walk around and pick up papers, but last April I started telling them to turn their papers in on my desk. I even got them to put their papers in alphabetical order by last name. That gets them moving and means I touch papers fewer times. I like this one.

Absent students’ paperwork is my bane. My goal is to post all handouts in Google Drive this year, so I think I’m not going to hold onto extra copies and just send students to Google Drive. That’ll help keep me accountable, and it’ll mean fewer papers to hold onto.

Also, my warmups are for a grade. That means that a student who is late or tardy needs to make it up. Which means I have to go write it down and put it in the makeup box for them to do in study hall. This. is. a. pain. This year, I think I’m going to take a picture for any absent students and immediately send copies to the printer of the photo. It’ll be black and white, but it’ll also get done.

So. I left in-service today with some concrete ways to fix problems in my classroom. That’s a pretty productive in-service.

Also, 48 hours until I meet students. 🙂

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