3. Set Up Expectations and Routines, Not Rules

I’ve read in a few books and heard in many classes, as I have mentioned, that limiting rules to a select bunch is good. As you may guess, I disagree. I feel that starting with a list of rules is very limiting.


Also, setting up very specific consequences (if you do X, then Y will hapen [insert call home, office, etc] ) can get out of hand – if you don’t follow through, then you look bad. And if you do, then does the punishment really help the behavior in the long run? My guess: no.

Try this instead:


No rules. Instead, make a list of routines. What are your requirements? How do you want things to go? For example, turning in homework. Where, when, and how should students turn it in? Then teach them the process. For many teachers, the “I thought I turned it in, I gave it to you during class, etc” gets out of hand. Tell students how to do it, and that’s it. Then when there’s an excuse, you can respond simply: “Since you know the routine, I’m sorry but I can’t be responsible for losing it even if you did give it to me in the middle of the lecture as we transitioned to the quiz and 10 students were asking questions, which is when you decided to hand me a half-crumpled and ripped piece of paper.” Hopefully you don’t say all of that every time, but you get the point.

Routines are the background processes. Without them, nothing else gets done. It’s how you file into class and sit, it’s how to transition between classes, it’s how you turn it and pass back homework. Put the onus on students, tell them that it HAS to be done that way. Not because you’re strict and arbitrary, but because any other way will be too distracting and the class won’t function. I’ve heard these called non-negotiables. If you hand me homework mid-class, I will lose it. I don’t negotiate that. I need you to start and finish the warm-up in 10 minutes, since that helps me figure out how to frame the rest of the activity. Must happen.


Expectations are broader. Rules are strict and limiting, and don’t necessarily allow for flexibility in how different students approach and handle things. Expectation 1: Work when it’s time to work. 2. If you finish early, help other students. 3. Walk appropriately in the hallways. 4. Speak at the right volume for the activity.

“But students will try to take advantage of loopholes and play games and it will lead to arguments!”, I hear people screaming. Maybe. At first. But it leads to a broader discussion: what is really appropriate? Students know it’s not appropriate. Don’t argue, don’t discuss it right away. Tell them. “You do know that’s not appropriate, and if you want to talk about it, then see me ____ [lunch/recess/after school/study block].”

I am also going to add a possibly unpopular sentiment here: the middle of class when a behavior happens is NOT a teaching moment. Instead, you keep it in your back pocket. A student got upset and slammed his desk and walked out. You want to have a rational discussion about expectations? Good luck! (but not really, because don’t do it!) What to do: tell the student: “You know that you’re expected to work appropriately, and I feel you didn’t do that. I’ll see you at lunch/recess/after school/Friday advisory to discuss it.” NO argument allowed (you need to move on). What you MUST do is actually follow up with the student. The immediate consequence may be that the student now sits and works, maybe goes to the office to work away from whatever caused the scene, etc.


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