Traveling Rules

Traveling Rules

Q: The classroom environment is calmer and friendlier when I work with the children to create classroom rules. But I still get reports from lunch, recess, and special area teachers about problematic behaviors in these areas. How can I help the children pay attention to our classroom rules even when they’re not in the classroom?

A: I feel responsible for my class all day long, including times I’m not with them such as riding the bus, lining up first thing in the morning, meeting with a special area teacher, or eating in the lunchroom. This means that our classroom rules are really rules for our life in school. I reinforce this idea in several ways.

For example, in the first weeks of school we’ll talk in depth about how to pay attention to the classroom rules in the lunchroom. Sometimes I find it helpful to use a “T-chart” (see sample) that helps children think about what a particular rule might look like and sound like. What does it look like and sound like to be kind to your classmates at lunch? We use the T-chart to structure a discussion of the rule and then we model expected behaviors. We follow this with visits to the lunchroom where we practice waiting in line, getting trays, sitting and talking, cleaning up our trays, etc. Throughout the year, we pause before going to the lunchroom and talk briefly about expectations for behavior.

I also check in every day when the children return from lunch. I begin with questions such as “Tell me about lunch today. What happened?” I often get more stories about negative behavior than positive, such as, “So and so punched me.” I respond by asking how we can help support positive behavior, for example, “How can we help each other keep our hands to ourselves?”

Finally, I invite lunch teachers to visit the classroom where we can discuss with them our rules and expectations. I also invite them to attend a Morning Meeting and share something about themselves, so students get to know them better.

Tim Keefe has been teaching for eighteen years. He currently teaches third grade at Washington School in West Haven, Connecticut. He has also taught fifth and sixth grades. Tim is a Responsive Classroom Certified consulting teacher and provides training in the Responsive Classroom approach for his school and his district.
A: I find it’s helpful to give children responsibility for living the rules throughout the school. One way I do this is by creating jobs specifically connected to reinforcing the rules. For example, one job is to be the rule bearer, whose task is to carry the rules from our classroom to our special area rooms, the lunchroom, and the playground (see box).

Another job is line leader. The job rotates weekly, with two students working together. Their job is to make sure that students line up and move through the halls quietly. In the classroom, the line leaders give a thumbs-up signal when the children are ready to leave the classroom. They then lead the line of children into the hallway. Outside the classroom, the line leaders pay attention to how the children are behaving. This means that the line leaders need to remember the rules.

If anyone breaks the rules, the line leader asks them to step out of the line and walk behind me instead of behind the line leader. If it’s one of the line leaders who forgets or chooses not to follow the rules, I intervene. That child cannot be line leader that day and the job shifts to the next child in line.

Before the line leaders can be successful, the class needs to discuss, model, and practice how to line up and how to move through the halls: line up quickly and quietly, stand without fidgeting, keep their eyes on the line leaders, step out of line and move behind me when the line leader asks them to, etc.

When I feel that the children are comfortable with lining up and walking in the halls, I then introduce the tasks of the line leader. Children discuss how to recognize that the line is ready to move out of the classroom. What does the line need to look like? Sound like? We model and practice the thumbs-up signal that indicates it’s time to move into the hall. And we discuss, model, and practice what it looks and sounds like to respect the line leader.

Carolyn Bush has taught at K. T. Murphy elementary school in Stamford Connecticut, for six years. She taught fourth grade for many years and currently teaches fifth grade. She is a Responsive Classroom Certified consulting teacher.
A: I like to put rules in the larger context of the positive social behavior that rules support—and it’s this positive behavior that I choose to focus on with the students. Sometime during the first six weeks of school, I introduce character traits such as responsibility, self-discipline, fairness, loyalty, and trustworthiness. I use literature and songs to introduce each trait and to begin making the traits concrete and easy for the children to understand. We then make word webs where we define the character trait and describe what it looks like in action and what it sounds like in action. We also role-play situations where we need to behave fairly, responsibly, etc.; we act out skits with puppets; and we make class books in which the students draw and write about how they demonstrate the character traits at home and at school.

In all these activities, we’re thinking about how we practice these positive behaviors not only in the classroom but also in the library, the cafeteria, and enrichment classes. For example, if I want students to learn how to act responsibly in music class as well as in our classroom, I might begin a discussion with them by asking, “What are ways you can show responsibility in the music room?” We then list, describe, and practice specific responsible behaviors such as following directions and listening respectfully.

I have found that teaching character traits this way helps my classes to develop a better understanding of what these words mean and makes it easier for them to carry this understanding into other areas of their lives.

Barbara Knoblock is a primary grades teacher at New Sarpy Elementary School in Destrehan, Louisiana. She is also a Responsive Classroom Certified consulting teacher.

Traveling rules: Our rules go with us everywhere we go

Tina Valentine, a fourth grade teacher at Kensington Elementary School in Springfield, Massachusetts, describes a way to literally carry the rules outside the classroom. In many classrooms at the school, one of the daily jobs is “rule bearer.” This child has the responsibility of carrying a laminated poster of the classroom rules wherever the class goes. Whether the group goes to the auditorium for music, the gym for PE, or the library for research, the rule bearer brings the classroom rules along for posting. At the end of the period, the rule bearer carries the rules back to the classroom. “The traveling rules poster is a tangible reminder that no matter where students are or who is teaching them, their classroom rules still apply,” says Valentine.

Fellow Kensington teacher Maureen Russell teaches first graders a ritual for handing off the rules poster, which she attaches to a coat hanger for easier carrying. Upon entering a special area, the rule bearer goes to the special area teacher and announces, “Here are our rules.” The teacher responds, “I accept the rules of Room 10,” then hangs the rules in a prominent place.

But it takes more than simply carrying the rules from place to place to make this strategy effective. When introducing the idea of traveling rules to students, it’s important to involve the special area teachers in the conversation from the start. And special area teachers need to reinforce the importance of living the rules. For example, the first time the traveling rules are received, the special area teacher might talk with students about what it looks like to follow these rules in the special area. In some cases, the special area teacher might add a rule or two that is specific to that area. To achieve the greatest consistency, the special area teacher also uses the same signals for attention as the classroom teacher and follows the same procedures when a child doesn’t follow the rules.

From Rules in School, Strategies for Teachers Series, 2003

Tags: Lunchroom, Playground, Recess, Schoolwide Rules, Special Areas