Breaking all the Rules

You should first know that if there is any educational superstar I aspire to be, it’s a mixture between Ron Clark and Erin Gruwell. The problem is, I don’t teach in an inner-city, gang-ridden district like Mrs. Gruwell and I can’t afford to build my own Charter School like Mr. Clark… Like Destiny’s Child told us, I have “bills, bills, bills.” However, I can take what these two superstars have taught me and apply it to my own little world located between a cornfield and dairy farm.

You see, the problem with deciding you want to be just like these educational gurus is their extreme differences. Ron Clark, for example, tells me that there are “55 essential” classroom rules. When you watch Erin Gruwell’s stories, her classroom seems to have very few rules. So, my classroom? Yeah, I’m somewhere in the middle.

For years, I wasted time telling students that my rules were to “respect themselves, respect others, and respect me”.

Do they do these things? Absolutely. Do all of my little necessary (albeit sometimes silly) rules fall under these three categories? Again, yes. However, students are exhausted when it comes to the word respect. And I will tell you right now that until you respect your students, they’ll never respect you. An administrator once told me that “respect is earned, never given.” Looking back on my educational career, I wish I could find them and tell them that they couldn’t have been more wrong.

I show my students that I respect them and their time from the second they walk in my classroom.

It’s up to them whether or not they keep that respect. Let me tell you, that in my short nine years in education…they work hard to keep it. I make sure they want it by showing them how much the students prior to them respected me. Sure, maybe it’s a little arrogant…but, guess what? It works.

I could spend the first day of my classes reviewing a boring syllabus and reading from an extensive list of classroom rules. Instead I let my previous students “tell” them what rules are important in my class. See how this all ties back to respect? I respect my former students enough to trust them to share insight into “surviving” my class with the underclassmen. Guess who is already excited to get to share that insight next year? You bet: those students sitting in my classroom getting ready to learn.

Late in the month of May, before my students leave me, they first write a letter to the underclassmen. In this letter, they tell them what exactly they need to do (or not do), to survive my class. They love it! I tell them they have free range and make sure they cover all of the things they wish they knew before they walked in their first day. I let them know that the incoming students will get to see their advice; this makes sure they really pour their hearts into it.

Come August, when I’m preparing my slides introducing myself to the students, introducing my class, and reviewing expectations… I let them know that I don’t have the key to how to survive: the previous classes do. I read through each letter and take out various statements (read: rules) and add them to a slideshow. I don’t filter what the students say at all! This allows my students to get some insight into my personality, as well.

What sort of “rules” do my previous students share with my incoming? Well…See for yourself.

Like I said… I don’t filter the comments. As I read them, the students are quickly able to determine my tone and personality. They are able to decipher that the relationships I have with my students is strong, positive and impactful. Let’s be real, a student wouldn’t dare to say the word butt cheeks if they didn’t have a positive relationship with that teacher.

Would you like to know what happens on that first day in my classroom? The groundwork for relationships has been laid. Respect has been shown and laughter can be heard. The number one indicator of learning, in my opinion, is laughter.

If you can make a kid laugh, you can make them learn.

Students are 100% more likely to remember my classroom rules through my unique method versus reading from a boring syllabus bullet list. Trust me, I’ve done the legwork…

Set the expectations for your classroom the same way you set the culture and climate: by laughing. Whoever said teachers shouldn’t smile until December didn’t know how much fun it would be to say butt cheeks in a class of ninth graders…


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