The behaviour question

16th September 2011 at 01:00

My head has asked me to spend some time establishing some classroom rules for my new Year 1 class. Any ideas on how I can make this fun and ensure children have ownership over their rules?

What you said


With my Year 2 class, we approached it from "how should we behave so that we can learn". I wrote "things that help us learn" in the middle of some sugar paper and split the class into a couple of groups. The writing might be too hard for potential Year 1s, but you or a TA could write the results of their discussions.


We were slammed in the past for having separate sets of "owned" rules and sanctions for different classes. It made things tricky when teachers taught other classes. We now have a whole school system, with shared rules and the same sanction and reward systems. Much easier.

The expert view

While the desire to get the kids to assume ownership over the rules is an admirable sentiment, it is often slightly misplaced. The idea that a child has to agree to the class rules in order to be bound by them, or has to be involved in the process of deciding what they are, is not only counterintuitive, it is also dangerous, for two reasons.

First, what happens if the children come up with rules that you are not entirely comfortable with? Sandpit mornings? Fag breaks? (I'm not entirely serious, but you get my point.)

Second, the tacit assumption behind this approach is that they are equal partners in the decision-making process, which already undermines your role as an authority. They simply aren't equal partners - that's absurd. They're children, and little ones at that.

It is entirely right that we value them and their opinions; they are humans, and that is intrinsically valuable. But this in no way contradicts the claim that we (the adults) have the right to impose rules and regulations for them. They need us to do this; they need us to be in charge.

In short, they need us to be adults. If we defer this responsibility, it only sends the authority, or power, in the room towards them. And they aren't ready to be in charge simply because they are children.

So while it is entirely understandable - and even a potentially interesting lesson for them - to involve them in the process, it would be far better to tell them what your rules are, and to devise an activity to explore why these rules are important. In this way, your authority is stamped on the class, and the children get an opportunity to think and learn from the experience.

It is seldom enjoyable to discuss rules (and why you might be finding it hard to find resources for creating new rules) because rules are more necessary than they are fun. They are the structure, the back-bone and the foundation of great learning, some of which will be fun, and a lot of which will not.

Learning is often hard work; getting the rules right from the start, and getting the relationship right, is how you achieve great learning and, hopefully, great fun. But the two mustn't be confused.

Good luck!

Tom Bennett is the author of The Behaviour Guru and Not Quite a Teacher.

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