How to Create Classroom Rules That Work

Here are some ideas for developing clear and practical classroom rules
with your students.  

Please raise your hand if you have ever been shocked by how your students sometimes treat each other and even you, their teacher! You may have thought you had been very clear in articulating your expectations. You may have even made a chart of all the classroom rules and displayed it on the wall, but some days no one seems to be reading it.

Perhaps you are a new teacher, trying to get your head around a myriad of classroom management techniques. Maybe you are an experienced teacher who has taken over someone else's class. Possibly a new student has disrupted your once peaceful classroom. Whatever the reason, sometimes your classroom can feel like a battleground.

When you are faced with this reality, you can be hit with a sense of helplessness, knocking your confidence. It’s daunting enough to have to cope with the normal teaching day, never mind when your students seem to have no respect for you and their peers.

Well, I have comforting news: establishing (or re-establishing) your class doesn’t have to be that overwhelming. You can create a respectful environment – all without being heavy handed, or super-grumpy.

Read the ideas below on how to create classroom rules that work. When we’re done you will know how to establish and maintain rules that will allow you and your students to have mutual respect for each other.

Creating Rules that Work by Involving Your Students

This is paramount in creating rules that work. If your students do not have ownership of the rules they will be less likely to abide by them. I have seen posters in classrooms with titles such as 'Miss M’s Rules' and I immediately think "Whose classroom is this?".  The students in that class will probably feel as though they have no voice at all.

Start with the end in mind

Before you start developing the rules, it is important to know what it is you are trying to create. Being able to visualise the desired outcome will enable you and your students to know exactly what you want. You can do a couple of exercises with your students to get them thinking about what kind of class they would like to be part of.
(I have included links to worksheet templates of these exercises at the bottom of this post, and there are some visual examples on my Pinterest Board 'Classroom Rules’).

Ask your students what they would like their 'ideal' classroom to be like - this can be a pair or group activity first (before you do a whole class discussion) so that the students have a chance to share their views in a non-threatening way. Some good starting questions are..

  • How would you like me to teach you?
  • What does respect look like, sound like and feel like?
  • How would you like to be treated by your classmates?

Be Creative

Use your students' every day language to compose the rules. They will be far more likely to remember the rules if they are written in the words they use day to day. 'Rules' is actually a very formal title, and may not be the best word for your students. Brainstorm other options. Some alternatives could be - Expectations, Guidelines, Class Contract, Our Promise, Code, Classroom Pledge or "In our class we will ..."

You do not have to have a long list of rules. Make it a challenge to see how few rules you actually need. Using concepts such as respect, trust and responsibility covers a variety of scenarios without having to have a rule for each specific situation. Use the brainstorm notes the students created earlier to come up with some words and phrases that appeal to your class.

You could create your rules in an acronym such as HAPPY or TRUST (use short words!). 

Stay Focussed

Once you have come up with a set of statements or words, ask your students how and where they would like them displayed in the room. Together you can choose a spot that is prominent and visible so that you can refer back to the rules easily. Again, involving your students in the decision making will ensure they are far more likely to look at, and remember, what they have promised.

Praise your students specifically for using the rules, not just when they forget eg. "I like the way you kept our class promise by respecting our equipment and working together".

In the final product make the writing large, clear and easy to read. Make the display bright and colourful. You can show your students some ideas from other classes (see my Pinterest Board) to inspire their creativity. Make the display personal by using self-portraits, handprints, or photos. Have fun putting the display together. Keep reminding your students how great it is to be in a class where everyone respects each other and takes responsibility for their own actions.

Last, but certainly not least, you will want to ensure that you regularly refer back to the document you and your students have developed. There is no use in creating the rules one day, sticking them on the wall and forgetting about them. What you create should be a working document that is regularly used and referred to and becomes “they way we do things in this class” You can revisit the rules through questioning and discussion eg. "What does respect/trust mean for us in this classroom?" "Can you give me an example of how someone was being responsible today?". Role playing works well too. Review the rules every few weeks by asking your students if they are still happy with them or if changes need to be made. 

Walk the Talk, Always

It should go without saying, but I am going to say it anyway - always ensure that YOU follow the rules too. Your students will expect to see you treating them the same way you expect to be treated BY them. They are always watching you and noticing how you interact with parents, colleagues and other students.

Next Steps..

I hope these ideas will be useful to you if you need to re-establish some ground rules, or you are starting a new class. You may find that creating these rules has an immediate effect on your class and that’s wonderful. However, it will probably take time so be patient and consistent.

Here are some ideas to get you started...​

  • Visit my Pinterest Board 'Classroom Rules' to see examples of classroom rules I have collected on Pinterest.
  • Download these templates to start the brainstorming process with your class. Just click on each link.