So how does one go about establishing those ground rules that help achieve a purposeful and calm learning atmosphere? This is my recipe from years of experience.
First week in every new academic year, instead of saying to the class,: ‘What rules shall we have this year?’; start with a set of speaking and listening guidelines, for unless students can listen to each other and take turns in speaking, it could prove challenging to have that discussion with them about the principles that will guide them throughout the year.
That in place,ask them ‘Why have you come to school today?’ The students’ responses are always the same: ‘To learn; to get a good education; to better myself; so I can get good levels; so I can get a better life when I am older; to make friends.’ It is always very interesting to note that no one of the students in all the years, I have listened to them have ever said anything else other than these.
Taking the discussion further;divide the class board into three sections, labelling them ‘You’, ‘Peers’ and ‘Teacher’. Then ask the students to work in pairs to tell each other how they feel they might achieve their aim of coming to school; pairs share as a group and then in whole class feedback. Students’ feedback include ‘work hard, listen, work with others.etc’ Working with others is important to them. Students record their answers on post it notes and stick these in the appropriate box.
To the question: What do you require your peers to do to help you achieve your aim of coming to school?’ There is never any ambiguity, ‘Help me; be supportive; follow the rules.’ etc. On the question of ‘What do you require the teacher to do?’ ‘Be caring; be supportive; be on time; help me when I am stuck, let me try things out by myself.’
Teachning craft is illuminated by asking the students to write down three rules that they would like from all that has been said.’ They must then choose their best one, which they combine with the rest of the class to group into similar areas and to select and agree on five only. Also effective is to invite some of ex-students to advise the class on thinking carefully before choosing e.g. they must remember why they themselves have come to school and what they hope to gain and as such should pick rules that will enable them achieve these.
These steps will result in five simple rules the students have come up with themselves, which hold personal meaning for each person and which they believe will support their intentions at school.
Needless to say, these rules will help establish a delightful class for the teacher and students as students remain motivated and inspired throughout the year being purposefully engaged at all times. The class rules are blown up and displayed near the board to serve as reminders should any of the students forget. This system develops students' metacognition skills too.
This is a great classroom behaviour management strategy to try out.