I don’t have a list of rules posted in my room. Instead, I have a class promise that my students “made” and we recite it each morning. You would not believe how much it has changed the climate of my classroom!
Students have a sense of ownership and they call each other out when someone isn’t following the promise. I hear thinks like, “Jane, I asked you to stop, and in our Promise it says that when someone asks you to stop, we stop.” Or when we do compliment circles for morning meeting, I will hear things like “I like how you always stay focused and work hard.”
How We Want Our Class to Feel, Look, Sound
I use the same promise every year, but I don’t refer to it until we create this chart on the first day. Each year I make a chart that says how we want our class to feel, look, and sound. I gather the students to the carpet and I ask them to tell me about their dream classroom. I fill in the chart as I go. They want to FEEL safe. They want it to LOOK like kids are having fun. They want it to SOUND like people laughing and being kind. Etc. I kind of “guide” them with the language I really want to pull from our promise.
Next I tell them how I think that they have great ideas and that this is the kind of classroom I want as well. I talk to them about how great it will be to have fun and learn together but I tell them that we have to have rules in order to make this happen.
Students Make the Rules
I ask them to create the rules for us. I have them each get with a partner and they each get one sticky note. On the sticky note, the partners must agree on two specific rules for the class.
Finally, we gather back together at the carpet and I have each partner group come up and share their rules. We then discuss where those rules would fit on our “How We Want Our Class to Feel, Look, and Sound” chart. I always have multiple rules that are the same and sometimes, students never actually cover the exact rules I want. That is okay.
The Class Promise
This is when I get creative and I show them how Our Class Promise fits exactly what they wanted for our rules. When someone made a rule that said, “Don’t call people names” that fits perfectly with “Treat others better than you want to be treated.”
By the way I added in the “better than you want to be treated part” when I learned years ago that if you ask a kid something like, “Would you like it if someone called you stupid?” they would always say “I don’t care!” or “It wouldn’t bother me!” That’s when I tell them, “Well, that’s why we have to treat people BETTER than we want to be treated!” Believe me, they really do care but their pride won’t admit it when they are upset and in trouble.
Recite it EVERYDAY and Make Movements
We say our class promise every single day and when kids have it memorized, we make motions to go along with the words. For example, when we say “We promise to encourage others and cheer each other on,” we throw up our fist in the air like we are cheering. This helps with more buy in as the brain is becoming more involved.
There will become weeks or days down the road when they become complacent and just say it to say it. This is when we start to really talk about it again and use a lot of inflection in our voice. Sometimes I even make little competitions between table groups on who can sound the most convincing.
Give this a try! Use mine or make your own, but please make a promise. It makes such a difference because you and your students are using the same language everyday. They know what you expect and they know that they are held accountable for their words. Here is my Class Promise.