Beginning Teacher FAQ: Should I let students help create classroom rules to show I value their opinions?

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New teachers often receive this advice. It looks great on paper, but it’s usually not worth the risk or the trouble, especially for new teachers. Not everyone agrees with me on this. In fact, this advice gets more push-back than any other advice I share in New Teacher Orientation speeches. (The people who do like it seem to like it a lot!) Nevertheless, here’s why I have persisted in telling new teachers to avoid the making-up-the-rules-with-the-kids activity:

Your first year, you are far more likely to give off a vibe of being unsure of yourself than of being too strict.

If you’re worried, at age 22 and a half, about seeming like the overly-authoritarian villain of a teacher movie, you can rest assured that you’re probably in the clear. It’s easy to get nicer over the course of the year. It’s very hard to get less nice. (Not impossible, but definitely hard.)

With that in mind, signing on to run a group decision-making activity with a room full of kids you’ve just met is a huge a classroom management gamble.

There are lots of chances for kids to argue, or laugh at each other’s suggestions, or get too loud, all of which puts you in a position where it’s hard for you to say anything about it, because until the activity is over, your classroom has no rules. 

Additionally, most classroom rules are pretty straightforward.

The rules your students come up with during this activity are likely to sound a lot like the straightforward list of rules your students remember from last year’s classroom, where the teacher had the rules posted on the first day of class.

If you do want to post the a list of rules in the classroom and are stuck or just so overwhelmed you don’t know where to start, here is a list of basic classroom rules you can use as a starting point.

Finally, if you’re an experienced teacher who’s made up rules with your students and loves this activity, there’s probably no good reason to stop doing it. As I explain here along with my advice on saying “Respect” is your only classroom rule, there are always exceptions.

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