We Don't Want Your Stinking Rules


Schools come equipped with enough rules and regulations, rituals and routines and plenty of dos and don'ts...


So why do we have to do more of it in our classrooms on the first five days of school?

Children live their lives inside of the boundaries of what they are and aren't allowed to do.

It starts with mom and dad and then continues everywhere, as we are

trying to engage students and inspire them to become lifelong learners, we must move away from creating a pact, going over regulations, and setting rules the second they walk in the door.

Students take their cues from us, so why not loosen up and start with respect? Demonstrate it and watch how students follow suit. Even youngsters don't need to be talked to about proper treatment of classmates on the first day as they have been learning on the playground at an early age.

Now, please don't hear that I don't think rules are important, they are, but the way we introduce them and consistently reinforce them can be done differently and certainly not right away.


School is not prison. It's a place of learning, and a lot of that has to be done with exploration, not just of content and studies but of each other.


Imagine setting up a situation where there are different getting-to-know-you protocols in place where specific behaviors are modeled and demonstrated for days only to walk into the second week to debrief about how well it all worked out and what parameters need to be set to make the learning space safe for everyone.


So much of what we take out of learning comes from the environment, and schools must create a space that welcomes, invites, and inspires more than just compliance. We need messy independence and risk-taking and positive reinforcement balanced where necessary with reasonable consequences.


Students of all ages can participate in several activities to help set these boundaries, just not in the first five days.

  • Try creating a class compact where students determine what makes the best learning space. Have the kids sign it and send it home to parents. Make a chart of this pact and place it on the wall, reminding students of what they decided.

  • Have conversations with students about what makes them feel safe enough to take risks. If they are afraid of being wrong, make being wrong a fun part of the learning process. Be sure to make mistakes in front of the students so they see it is okay and an opportunity to learn.

  • Don't send kids to the dean or principal right away. Try to solve issues in-house wherever possible. As soon as you involve outsiders in class issues (obviously for serious issues, escalate, but be judicious with the escalation), you give your credibility with the students away. I've always made sure to address issues directly with students, even before getting parents involved at the high school level. Treating high school students like the burgeoning adults they are is essential to them, and it builds respect and rapport.

  • Try not to lose your cool if things don't go as you expect or want. Flexibility goes a long way, and although you can apologize and make it a teachable moment, getting this worked up right away doesn't foster safe feelings for kids.

  • Be mindful of the students in your space. Watch how they respond to one another and make sure to recognize students who go out of their way to help others, so they can see this is a valuable asset and part of learning in this space.

  • Celebrate small victories often. Create rituals around this instead of just punitive collections of consequences. Always try to take situations from the positive, making examples of up-standers.

  • Make sure to reach out to parents regularly for positive reasons right away. These phone calls and emails go a much longer way than the negative ones. Plus once a parent sees you recognize what they see in his/her child, the more willing he/she will be to work with you if a problem does arise later.

  • Avoid singling out the same kids for positive or challenging situations. Try to be as "equal" as possible in the beginning.

  • Start every class with a smile at the door and a well-wish at the end to let students know you've enjoyed the time with them. Plus, students can read your emotions. So take deep breaths and let it all go so you can give them the best version of yourself.


Building a community of learners who can collaborate well together will take time but will pay off exponentially. Don't give up and run to the rules because it gets too noisy or a student or three have a bad day. Remember, it's about them, and this experience only goes down once, so make it the most enjoyable experience for everyone involved.

How do you build a community of learners? Please share


*This post originally ran in August 2016 on my Education Week Teacher blog.

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