Classroom Rules and Routines

Types of Rules

Different kinds of rules serve different functions. In the classroom, there are two basic types of rules.

  • General Rules: General rules spell out the teacher’s overall expectations for good work and good behavior within the classroom.

  • Specific Procedures: Specific procedures spell out exactly “how to do this” and exactly “how to do that” in the classroom.

General Rules

General rules deal with broad classes of behavior and are best stated in positive rather than negative language. Typical examples include, “Treat each other with respect.” and, “Do your best work.”

It is time well spent for a faculty to devise a list of general rules that all teachers can share. The discussion that accompanies this process can produce some important consensus building.

These general rules, however, might best be understood as values clarification statements. A discussion of each general rule at the beginning of the semester gives you a chance to convey goals and expectations to the class.

Specific Procedures

Procedures, by describing exactly “how to do this” and “how to do that,” constitute the nuts and bolts of classroom structure. Procedures must be taught as thoroughly as any other lesson – complete with rationale, rehearsal, constant monitoring, and repetition to mastery.

The only way to make the implementation of procedures affordable is to make them a matter of routine. Practice to mastery is crucial. A routine is automatic when it can be carried out quickly and correctly in response to a simple verbal prompt.

A School Site Procedures Manual

One of the most cost-effective forms of faculty collaboration is the development of a School Site Procedures Manual. This manual shares the wisdom and experience of teachers in the form of protocols for each routine that faculty members regularly employ.

Writing the manual stimulates sharing among teachers. This helps solidify commitment to key routines as it hones the most efficient way of implementing each one. Uniform procedures pay additional dividends whenever students transition from teacher to teacher or from one grade level to another.

Teaching Procedures and Routines

The teaching of classroom procedures is time-consuming. First, each routine must be taught thoroughly. And second, there are many of them to teach.

Yet, in spite of this initial investment, classroom routines are one of your primary labor saving devices. They reduce your stress each time you have the class do something. Over the long run the investment in training pays for itself many times over.

Research has repeatedly shown that teachers with the best run classrooms spend most of the first two weeks of the semester teaching their procedures and routines. Teachers who do not make this investment deal with the same behavior problems over and over all semester long. It is a case of:

Pay me now, or pay me later.

Do it right, or do it all year long.

As logical as this might sound, few teachers actually make the investment. In fact, the older the students, the less investment we make.

The teachers who make the greatest investment are, of course, the primary teachers. They spend half of their time teaching procedures and routines.

The investment is still considerable although spotty in the middle grades. But by junior high and high school, the teaching of procedures has typically become perfunctory – just some announcements on the first day of class.

They Should Know By Now

When secondary teachers are asked why they don’t spend more time on the teaching of procedures, they say, “They should know how to behave by now.” When pressed, these teachers say such things as:

“Spend the first two weeks on rules – you have to be kidding! I don’t have two weeks for that. I would never make up the time.”


“I can see doing it with the little kids. But doing it with older kids seems like a complete waste of time. How often do they have to be taught these things?”

Consequently, the teaching of classroom procedures and routines is one of the most neglected areas of classroom management. This lack of proactive management will cost teachers dearly as the semester progresses.

Whatever The Students Can Get Away With

While teachers’ conviction that “they should know how to behave by now” is sincere, it is also naive. Students know exactly how to behave in class. They always have. The question is, do they have to?

Two of the most common complaints from secondary teachers concerning student behavior are 1) talking while I am talking, and 2) interrupting other students when they are talking. These two problems represent primary grade level socialization. How many times do you think teachers have dealt with these issues before a student reaches high school?

You should know from your own experience in school that students adjust their behavior to match the standards of each teacher. If your second period teacher lets you talk and fool around while your third period teacher does not, you will talk in second period if you want to and cool it in third period.

The standards in any classroom, to put it bluntly, are defined by whatever the students can get away with. If you do not take the time to carefully teach your rules, routines, and standards, you will get whatever the students feel like giving you.

This is a classic example of proactive versus reactive management. A wise teacher knows that spending time on procedures early in the semester saves time and energy in the long run. Prevention is always cheaper than remediation.

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