I see rules posted in most classrooms. In many cases, teachers created these rules based on student contributions. According to our Internship Performance Criteria (as well as the “State Eight”), evidence of student contributions to classroom norms is part of a “distinguished” learning environment:
5.4 Component 2d: Managing Student Behavior by Establishing Expectations
Distinguished – Standards of conduct are clear to all students and appear to have been developed with student participation.
Inviting students to suggest and modify classroom norms is an excellent way to encourage authentic consideration and ownership of their participation in a learning community. But student-generated norms will not automatically boost student buy-in, nor do they necessarily reduce behavior problems. The practice has little power in itself, but a humble and empathetic teacher can put it to powerful use.
My friend Mr. Hexagon has a unique version of classroom norms posted just above his whiteboard. It’s titled “Good Audience” and lists five qualities that fit that description. Mr. Hexagon and his students created the list collaboratively, in perfect alignment with criteria 5.4. But the real power of this classroom management tool, and one reason Mr. Hexagon is a distinguished teacher, is in the way he references the list when problems arise. This 6th grade social studies teacher doesn’t have to repeat the words, “please be quiet” throughout class, or stand in front with an index finger pinned to pursed lips. When a member of Hex’s class talks out of turn, he faces them and engages a calm, dignified conversation.
When one student interrupted a peer’s comment with a lively and mildly spiteful, “Whatever!” Mr. Hexagon turned to face him and asked, earnestly,
“Are you being a good audience member right now?”
“No.” The student replied with thoughtful regret, but not shame.
“What will you do to be a better audience member now?” Hex points to the “Good Audience” poster.
“Not blurt out.”
“Thank you! Perfect – you can do that!”
And then he’s back with the rest of the class. This tiny conversation is well worth the time it takes because, for Mr. Hexagon, it isn’t a side bar. If students really are in school to think, and if they really are in social studies to think about the ways in which people affect each other and the world, then a 25-second dialogue about respectful audience behavior is well within bounds.
My friend’s use of community-made norms is an admirable instance of the second basic principle of Love and Logic – “share the thinking” (Fay and Funk, 1995, p. 26). Mr. Hexagon shows his students dignity and respect when he invites them to think: think about what norms you want to operate by, and think about whether your actions honor the norms you’ve created.
Like Jim Fay and David Funk, Mr. Hexagon is committed to having this personally affirming and dignified method of discipline. The learning environment he has built reveals his belief that kids will do what’s expected of them when they’re “treated with dignity and allowed to think” (Fay and Funk, 1995, p. 183).
Fay, J. & Funk, D. (1995). Teaching with love & logic: taking control of the classroom. Golden, CO: Love and Logic Press.