no rules classroom

New school year is starting for many of us.
Educators create routines, daily schedules, small group experiences.
We plan for wonderful books to read, experiments with new materials, songs to sing.

And, we m-i-g-h-t have a big discussion about RULES and then generate some sort of list with our students.

Here's the thing for me:
I have never liked having RULES in the classroom. Never.

this is not a rule list...this is a child's birthday party list!
I have never made a big list with my students.
I have never posted statements - whether 3 charming rules which might include "Be a Friend" or 102 detailed ones such as "Don't throw the hamster" - on a wall in the classroom.

I prefer having project documentation and photographs of children engaged in school life posted on the walls of the classroom, not a list of RULES.

Ideals I believe in: goodwill, intentional teaching, partnership with children.
I also believe that children are the real owners of the classroom - not me. They are the ones who create the energy and life of that particular school year. I rely on that. I don't try to control it.

breathe. breathe...let me tell you more about my no rules classroom.
No worries, educators and parents. I believe there are other ways to have a group of children work collaboratively and cooperatively in a classroom without having a big list.

I prefer to start the school year diving into relationship building with students  - teachers with students AND students with students. I believe that we all have some initial unsettled feelings and behaviors in a new environment so Wiggles, Distraction, Running ahead, Leaving Circle Time, Pushing Someone Else's Blocks, Missing Dad or Mom, Not Joining In, Expressing Unkind Words...all these things are normal and need time to work themselves out. No "rules" will make the beginning of school extinguish the newness and the unknown. Instead of spending time TALKING ABOUT RULES, we can spend time DOING SCHOOL & PLAYING GAMES & EXPLORING OUR CAMPUS ... working out our unsettled feelings in the moment they are happening and getting used to the routine.
keep breathing...there is more to my theory.

I believe that The Role Of The Teacher has to be the changing component to support the adjustment for children, not the children being confined to how they 'should' feel or be. The beginning of the school year, I leave the routine open so that there is plenty of room for teachers to support and connect with students.
For example, instead of guardians needing to drop off their child straightaway for teachers to begin our morning meeting (circle time), we leave the first hour or longer for transitions: Guardians can stay if they want, chat with teachers, look around with their child, and their child gets comfortable in some sort of play/art/books. When guardians leave, we continue supporting the children in their chosen exploration. If/when there are challenges the children are having, we help resolve it with them right then  - perhaps with materials in the classroom, how to include themselves in play, how to open/use something, etc. We might finally have "good morning" hours later. 
As the days go by, we can shorten this transition and also let children know that we'll start having Morning Meeting closer to when they say goodbye to their guardian. This gives the child space to understand the components of the routine and be a part of the minor adjustment as to When we do a certain thing. When children have had TIME to be engaged in the classroom and have had some interactions individually with teachers, they are much much much much much more likely to be able to follow some tweaking to the routine.

After we have had the transition into school and have made connections with the children individually, most unsettled behaviors have disappeared. This doesn't mean challenges don't present themselves in our group.
Here's what happens when I DO interpret  that a child or children's words or behaviors require some  - ummm - modification: I bring the issue to the the class group. Not in a "look what THIS girl or boy did" kind of way. I bring an issue to the group as a QUESTION or as a HERE'S WHAT YOUR FRIENDS DISCOVERED or as an I WAS WONDERING ABOUT THIS. Depending on the issue, it may have have been resolved already with the specific children at the time and "we" thought it would be helpful for other children to "know" about the conclusion.
For example, there was sand being thrown in the outdoor sand & water area. The sand was being thrown AS children were digging a deep hole and shoveling out the sand behind them with a big toss into the eyes of children sitting behind them in the sandbox. In group meeting, we were able to talk about the great hole being dug, the wonderful shovels available to use and the actual kids who did toss the sand in others' eyes. Those kids were the ones who demonstrated the sandbox resolution: how to watch for other people and different ways to stand/squat/kneel so that your shovel doesn't toss sand in people's eyes.
For me, this is what I love. Children learning and sharing how to use materials in safe ways and being respected for their intended work (digging the deep hole). We don't need a DON'T THROW SAND rule. We all learned about the very deep hole, the great shovels, and practiced different ways to position your body to try to keep the sand out of people's eyes when digging. No kids had to label other kids as "the ones who throw sand" because they weren't - they were the kids who were trying to dig a very deep hole.
[Yes, these discussions take some time. Yes, I know we can't have a group discussion about every discovery or resolved issue. Yet, if it is important, we can make time.]

I am aware that there ARE safety rules. There are fire drills, dangerous cement stairs, sharp fences...there are also hammers, wood blocks and delicate science tools.
There are things that require a discussion first in order that choices to use something have boundaries around them. Still, I might offer these 'rules' as part of the 'how' to use or do something.
For example, we might discuss how our classroom front door opens out onto the play yard. We might discuss how IF you are the one opening the door, please open it slowly in case there are students outside walking near our door. The children understand that reasoning, but I don't consider it a 'rule' that needs to be posted on my classroom wall. 
Another example, perhaps children want to use our woodworking bench. We talk about how bits of the wood or dust might fly around when you hammer or nail something, so your eyes need to have the 'safety glasses' on when you use the woodbench. This is part of  USING THE WOODBENCH, yet I don't consider it to be a 'rule'  - I consider it to be a required element of using the woodbench.

In the end, I guess it is sort of ironic. I guess My Rule For Myself is to have no rules for children to adhere to from a bold, posted list staring at them everyday. Pretty good rule, really, to have for myself.

By the way, I get it. I get that teachers want to have a group consensus, something to refer back to as the class agreement so that teachers are not the police or the bad guys or potentially being inconsistent with the reinforcement of the rules. I get it. However, I just don't see the need to establish these before the behavior/challenge presents itself as I find it artificial and presumptuous.
Children's needs for support and adjusting to routine varies every year:
Note: I have had groups of 4s & 5s who needed a couple weeks to get into the routine.
Bigger Note: I have had a group of 4s & 5s who  - literally  - created their own 'morning meeting' on the second day of school and were waiting for me to join them to start the day.

I think rules impact children in ways that make them WALK THE LINE when really they want to dance or skip.

LASTLY, if you NEED to have something posted: What if you had a Motto instead? What if you had a Positive Message instead? What if you had posted quotes in your class that DO set the UPBEAT tone for how everyone - teachers, children, visitors -  can feel in your classroom?

Here are some sample quotes from my classroom:

"Everyone should know the JOY of walking into a room and having people be happy because they are there." (anon)

"Children, like anything else of value, should not be hurried." (anon) (I usually have this posted right below our classroom clock on the wall!)

 "We have to go to school so that we can love people we didn't know before." (former 4s/5s students)

cheers to a new school year.
cheers to partnering with children in a respectful, thoughtful, patient way.
cheers to uplifting children's intentions as positive and dynamic.
Do you have Rules? Why and How do you use them?


  1. Love the ideas of posting mottos! I'm just wondering if you have adminstrators on board with this and how you did that? When I was teaching, I was always told I had to have rules posted in my classroom.

  2. @Jackie - Thanks for the comments. I understand about the admin and what we "have to" do as teachers. I just organize our 'ways to BE' in a different way that doesn't make rules be the power word.
    Of course, so many teachers have rules posted such as the Golden Rule or the Top 3 (Be Kind to yourself, Be Kind to others, Be Kind to our environment) which are all encompassing of any behavior that needs to be addressed. What did you usually do? Generate a list with the students?

  3. Love the idea of the no-rules classroom. Rules cause problems, in my experience--always have to be defining the limits.

    I have two rules in my adult literacy class: Refuse to be bored, and Pass if you want to.

  4. Wow. Great post! Interesting concepts that I fell I must try in my own classroom.

  5. Excellent food for thought Ms. Jeanne. Thanks!


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