Sep 04

Creating a Shared Vision of Responsibility in the Classroom

For many school divisions, today was the first day of classes for students.
And I’m guessing that a lot of “classroom rules” were laid out for 1000’s of students in schools across the country.  

But what do those rules really mean to students if they are imposed by the teacher?

When students have rules “imposed” on them, the rules are a bit like white noise.  The rules are there but they belong to the teacher.  Students have not had a part in creating them and thus are not personally linked to them or have any real invested interest in them.

But when students are part of creating classroom “guidelines” something different happens – the guidelines become a “shared vision”.

What’s in a name? Should they be called Rules or Guidelines or Agreements?

Rules are generally something that someone else decides and it’s easy not to feel engaged or responsible.  On the other hand if students are asked to be involved in creating “guidelines” or to come to an “agreement” on how to make their learning “community” work for all, they have a personal investment in making it work.

How to make this process work:

1. Brainstorm a list of “guidelines” that would make the classroom a great place to learn.Start small – have students choose 3 or 4 guidelines from the brainstormed list by taking a vote.    
2. Ask students to agree to the guidelines (you’ve now created an “agreement”) for a period of approx. two weeks at which time you will meet and formally review how the guidelines or are working.  Many teachers find that having the students sign the agreement, help to solidify “buy in”.
3.  In the meantime, it’s important to clarify the guidelines.  For example if behaviours such as “kindness” and “respect” are part of the agreement, the meaning of those words may need to be clarified. Students often know the right words, but they just as often lack the knowledge of what those words really mean.  Do some group reflection on what they look like in practise.
4. Involve the students in self reflection on how the guidelines are working – over and over again throughout the school day.  Invite them to look inward and look at how they personally can do a “little better”.
5. Be patient – this is a new process for many students (and teachers) but an important step towards a democratic classroom and the development of social and personal responsibility.

References: Positive Discipline in the Classroom Revised & Expanded 4th Edition: by Jane Nelsen, Lynn Lott & H. Stephen Glenn

Positive Discipline in the School and Classroom: Teachers’ Guide Activities for Students by Teresa LaSala, Jody McVittie & Suzanne Smitha.