I intend to keep our classroom rules simple to understand, broad enough to apply to various situations, yet sufficiently succinct to reference in the context of most any unacceptable behavior. In accordance with my philosophy, "rules" that we establish should be fluid over time to accommodate the uniqueness of different groups, my ever-improving classroom management skills and to conform to policies of the greater school. I instruct students to refer to our classroom "rules" as Community Conventions. This provides learning opportunities three-fold: to realize that each class is a community of individuals who must depend on and support one another; to impart the mores by which we will abide; and to gain a useful vocabulary word (convention)!To harbor a sense of community, I emphasize that these conventions are not mandates from an authority, but agreements that we all make together. In our first days and weeks together, we discuss this system, creating examples of acceptable and unacceptable behavior, and ensure that everyone clearly understands the goals and expectations of our classroom community. To provide ownership and investment, students help create necessary detailed Community Conventions as we grow together. The umbrella conventions are:
The "silent convention" of LOVE LEARNING appears unconventional (See, it’s a great word!), but I think it is important to include. Learning is the reason we come to school, so it seems appropriate to make it one of our agreements. It is the task of the entire class, but especially mine as the professional, to search among all the content areas and learning methods for a connection to each child so he or she can experience the love of learning. Thus, to make this goal a "rule" indirectly makes an attitude against learning unacceptable in our community.
Parenting has taught me the value of routine for young, developing minds. By establishing familiar procedures and expectations for each activity, the goal is reducing dependency on consequences for students who choose to go against our Community Conventions.
To manage the classroom, we have established a community-based system that focuses on success for all and minimizes public scrutiny of individuals. The Community Chest is a large jar displayed prominently. We have marbles that are used as "currency". If students are disruptive, I concisely make a statement to the class, identifying how the behavior went against one of the conventions specifically. I then put a marble in the jar. The class is motivated because how full the jar gets determines the success of the classroom community towards a special afternoon at the end of each month (Fourth Friday). Each marble in the jar represents one minute reduced from Fourth Friday where the class may choose to watch a movie, play games, have a popcorn party or other acceptable activity that the group chooses. This places value on appropriate and expected behaviors in the hands of all (Incidentally, I have intentionally reversed common points systems to negate rewards for "accumulation” that our society has come to value so much and we discuss this often as a point of social justice.)
When the entire class is completely energized and having a hard time focusing, I will stand by the jar and drop one marble in every few seconds. As I watch the clock, and they hear the noise of marbles in a jar, a domino effect of cooperation typcially occurs and we discuss the group’s behavior in an orderly fashion.
We also write the word TEAM on the board. When three rocks are dropped in a row, a letter comes off from TEAM as well as five minutes from the next recess.
If I have explained the management system adequately to the class at the beginning and they abide by our conventions, we should not have problems with them ridiculing peers who are responsible for the class collecting marbles. This procedure places responsibility for the whole with each person, not only to pull their weight, but also to help one another conform to agreed-upon, acceptable behavior. For recurring unacceptable behavior, I teach peer mediation strategies so that the community can learn to solve its own problems.
Of course, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, or so Newton tells us. The group can have marbles removed from the jar for appropriate behavior too. In fact, to accentuate the value of appropriate behavior, if someone is “caught doing good” by a teacher (me or another), I remove a marble from the jar. I also leave inspiring, personal post-it notes with students, randomly, for positive behavior observations I make.
When it is apparent that one child is repeatedly creating disruption, the system for this is simply a clipboard with each team member's name on it and each convention. If an individual is reminded of which convention s/he broke, s/he gets a mark in that column. Two marks results in a lost recess. Three marks in any one convention results in a blue note at the end of that week.
In the case of a student who simply refuses to be a part of the community, stated or by exhibition, I will escalate that student’s situation with these consequences:
Personal Write-Up – A written, signed statement of what s/he did with an appropriate alternative behavior that is in line with one of our conventions. I believe this to be a succinct method for the student to reflect on the behavior without further disrupting instruction or activity for the class. I keep the written statements to reference for grading or conferences. Individuals are frequently motivated because, rather than public humiliation, he or she is participating in correcting his or her own behavior.
Personal Write-Up w/ Parent Signature – Same as above, but the student will leave a copy with me as collateral and take one home to be signed by a parent/guardian, then returned.