The One Rule Classroom: Just a little RESPECT!
By Mary Montero
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There are so many ideas for classroom rules, and I love and respect many of them. I remember my mentor walking in on my first day of teaching while we were generating class rules. The kids, by nature, were shouting out things like “no talking when the teacher is talking!” and “no running in the halls.” I was just glad they at least knew what I expected from them, and was just trying to get through that first day of teaching, so I wasn’t correcting them.
As I furiously jotted the notes on a chart, my mentor-teacher piped up in the back and said “Why don’t we turn some of those ‘no’ rules into something more positive?” For the next few years, the positive rules were the route I went, and we would parse it down to 5 or 6 positive expectations. Then suddenly one year, my colleagues and I decided we only needed one rule: RESPECT. It was the perfect rule, related to our IB Attitudes, and really, how easy is it for kids to remember ONE rule? (Side Note: We actually called it our one “Essential Agreement” since we are an IB school, and that is what we refer to such expectations as. For the general population’s purpose, I’ll refer to it as a rule.)
When we begin talking about our expectations, I ask the students to brainstorm a big list of rules. Any rule they can think of. We compile a great big list of rules (sometimes they get really crazy and have 20 or 30 rules and start to get borderline silly!) and then we sit back and look at them. Then, I get incredibly dramatic.
“BUT!!! How in the WORLD will I ever remember all of these rules!?” I groan.
The children stare at me, totally unsure of my dramatics. After all, it is only the first day of school, and these children barely know me.
I tell them that I have an idea…Let’s categorize our rules to make it a little bit easier to remember. We put them into categories like “How we treat others” “How we treat supplies” “How we behave” etc.
To the children, I am still clearly overwhelmed by all of these rules. Obviously, they agree that this is a lot to keep track of. I ask the children to come up with just one word to describe all of these rules… We hem and we haw. Eventually, they come up with the word “Respect” and a lightbulb goes off, and there is peace in the world again.
Okay, maybe I got a little dramatic again, but truly, the students get it. They “get” that everything boils down to respecting others, ourselves, our learning, and our property.
Once we have come up with the rule, I write “RESPECT” in big bubble letters on a poster and have all the students sign it. We hang it up in our room and everyone who walks in can see what our one class rule is. Don’t judge my bubble letters. They are absolutely not my forte.
When I see students goofing off in the hall, I can remind them that they aren’t showing respect to the students learning in the other rooms. When they don’t put the marker tops back on, they are reminded that they aren’t respecting our supplies. When they shout out while I’m teaching, it doesn’t take long for them to realize they aren’t respecting me.
Of course, this doesn’t work for every single child. Some children and some classes will need very specific rules, and I absolutely don’t fault them for that. There are programs out there that I ADORE that can accompany this well, too, but it’s a good starting point. If you’re willing to give it a go, you will very likely be thrilled with the RESPECT you have in your classroom!
UPDATE Free Printable and Additional Lesson!
We also created the perfect picture book companion to help students see the importance of classroom rules and responsibility at the beginning of the school year. During the back-to-school season (or any time of year), grab What if Everybody Did That by Ellen Javernick (Amazon affiliate link) for the perfect SEL literacy resource!
This resource includes EVERYTHING you need to implement these lessons. Just grab a copy of the book (you can also find fun read-aloud versions on YouTube), and you’ll be set to go! If you love this lesson, then consider the book companion bundle too. It contains 40 book companions to use all year long!
I’m so glad you are here. I’m a current gifted and talented teacher in a small town in Colorado, and I’ve been in education since 2009. My passion (other than my family and cookies) is for making teachers’ lives easier and classrooms more engaging.