Creating ground rules for students is essential to their learning.
For Administrators

5 Guidelines for Creating and Enforcing Effective Classroom Ground Rules

By Brian Gatens June 20, 2016

One of the crucial points in Doug Lemov’s excellent book, “Teach Like a Champion,” is that teachers need to establish baseline classroom expectations — or, if you will, ground rules.

If you plan to address more complex work in your class, then baseline expectations need to be hard-baked into your classroom culture and well-known to students and parents. Here’s how to create and enforce effective ground rules:

Begin with culture

Creating ground rules for students is essential to their learning.Your words and your written communications must set very clear standards for how you expect students to treat each other in your classroom, how much effort they should put into their learning and what they should do when they don’t know how to complete a task or answer a question.

While telling what you expect the students to do is a start, you should also share various scenarios with your students regarding how they should act in class. Examples include what to do when a classmate struggles, what quality collaborative work looks like and what to do when they need help.

You also may have specific expectations about using equipment, completing homework and other tasks that are unique to your classroom. Spell those out clearly and say why these expectations matter. Bring everything you expect back to the students’ overall success. The more you do that, the better culture you’re going to create.

Get parents involved

Often the missing component in setting ground rules is getting buy-in from student homes. Use your summer letter, beginning-of-the-year communications and back-to-school night to set those expectations in stone.

Ask parents for their input and make the case for why your expectations are important and reasonable. Be firm on what’s absolutely necessary and show flexibility on what can be adjusted. Always emphasize the connection between your classroom structures and student academic growth.

Be firm, fair and consistent

Ground rules have to apply at all times and places — otherwise they are not rules. You have to be strong in enforcing the rules. Making too many little allowances for things like student behavior or homework often leads to a slippery slope where suddenly your expectations are shot.

Apply your expectations evenly across the board. Don’t make exceptions for favorite students or children whose parents are more strident than others.

Collaborate with your colleagues

If you work on a grade level or share students with other teachers, sit with your colleagues and develop the same expectations across your classes. Not only does this offer you a stronger base of support, but it helps the students as they now know how to act across the board.

The success of this approach depends upon the support and agreement of all teachers. Make sure everyone is onboard when putting together shared ground rules.

Coordinate with your boss

Sit and speak with your immediate supervisor before you undertake any large-scale expectation setting in your classroom. This is especially important if you are a first-year or newer teacher.

Schools should be working on developing a specific culture and your class should support that overall mission. Take any guidance that you’re offered seriously and don’t strike out on your own if you’ve been asked to go in a different direction. Your ground rules are essential but they have to coordinate with the work of the school.

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