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Rules Versus Values

Ever heard the expression, “Don’t smile until Easter?”  Most of us are uncomfortable with this idea because it’s awfully hard to build meaningful relationships without so much as the occasional grin.  But still, many “old school” types swear by it.  What’s that all about?


The truth is that the intention may not be quite as sinister as the expression.  Most who adopt this mantra don’t actually stick by it, but what they are trying to do is emphasize the importance of very clear expectations and minimum standards for behaviour in their classroom.  Expectation clarity is critical if you want your classroom to be productive.


But there are many ways to achieve clarity for your students and selecting the right way forward for you is worth a few quiet moments to mull over.  Most teachers then end up at something of a crossroad – do I lay down the rules or do I try to draw classroom norms from the students as the know deep down what works.


I once heard a great expression “When you come to a fork in the road, take the fork”.  I think it’s the case with rules and values too.  You don’t have to choose.  Both rules and values are paramount if you want the classroom to function in an effective and sanity preserving way.


Rules are for you!  As a teacher we all have strengths and even some weaknesses that we may not like to admit.  There are certain environmental aspects that some teachers can handle and encourage that others find unbearable.  For me, it was leaving the room for unnecessary toilet breaks.  As much as I tried to get over this unceasing request and told myself it really wasn’t that big a deal, there may have been a point in my professional life where I actually exploded if I heard the expression “But Mr.Voigt, … I’m busting!” one more time.


This was about MY ability to function at my best – so I made a rule.  It was explained to the students that this was one thing I really needed some help with so I could stay happy and good company.  I agreed to remind them every single recess and lunch break to use the toilets.  I also allocated some quiet reading time after lunch to using the toilets if needed.  But then, I allowed only one “bladder explosion” per term!  To their credit, this was never a problem.  They were clear on what was required and why it was required.


Another aspect that I really battled with as a classroom teacher was telling the truth.  You see, I’m not great with body language.  I honestly (forgive the pun) can’t tell if somebody is lying to me or not.  But a rule was never going to help me here – how do I enforce telling the truth?  I’d be back at square one.


So I stated my clear desire for truth in my classroom and played a great game of Magic Cards where I read the students’ minds with specially numbered cards.  The game doesn’t work if you don’t tell the truth and follow the instructions. While playing we chatted about the truth, defined it, determined the value of it and by the end of the game there were four students working collaboratively on a class poster about how much they value truthfulness.  Win-win.  And the value of honesty is now on the radar.


So the choice is yours.  Rules?  Values?  Nah … both!