The Only Classroom Rules You’ll Ever Need

Happy StudentsIf you’re looking for elaborate or decorative classroom management ideas, you won’t find them here.

Though prevalent, such ideas are unnecessary, even counterproductive, for classroom management.

On this site, we’re focused on only two things:

1. What works best.

2. What is simplest for you.

The goal of classroom management is to eliminate distractions, disruptions, and poor behavior, so you are free to inspire your students.

The results are happy and high achieving students.

Anything that interferes with this goal, or doesn’t contribute to it, should be thrown out.

Too many teachers chase the next great classroom management idea and are continually disappointed. They try one thing after the other, searching for the magic solution that will finally “get through” to their students.

In the meantime, they’re stressed and tired of dealing with behavior issues. For them, teaching becomes an act of drudgery rather than what it can and should be:

An act of joy.

So instead of chasing trends, why not focus on what is proven to work? All students respond predictably to certain principles and strategies. Master them, and you will never worry about classroom management again.

True, your fellow teachers may not “ooh” and “ahh” over the cleverly contrived classroom management charts or newfangled methodologies you’re using, but they will marvel at your ability to control your classroom.

And, most important, you’ll be able to focus your energies on what attracted you to teaching in the first place: the chance to make a lasting impression on your students.

A couple of days ago, I spoke to a former student on the phone. I was his sixth grade teacher. He is 24-years old now and a recent college graduate. I’m thrilled with his success and couldn’t be prouder of the person he has become.

But as we were talking, it saddened me to hear him say that he couldn’t remember his fourth or fifth grade teachers. He couldn’t even describe them to me.

Until you have a solid understanding of classroom management and how to implement the strategies that really work, your classroom will be forgettable too.

You can’t be the inspiring, influential, and memorable teacher you want to be unless your students—all of them—follow your rules.

Classroom rules are a fundamental tenet of classroom management, and they form the core of your plan. They’re important, to be sure, but they don’t need to be complicated. In fact, the simpler, the better.

Here are four keys to creating classroom rules that work.

1. Clarity trumps all. Your students must clearly understand your rules in order to follow them.

2. Use only four or five rules. Any more than that will make your rules harder to remember and, thus, harder to follow.

3. Make sure your rules cover every eventuality. You can’t enforce a behavior unless it falls under the banner of one of your rules. Doing so is confusing and unfair to students.

4. Make them specific. Everyone, especially you, needs to know when or if a rule has been broken.

Many years ago, I discovered a set of rules that fit the criteria listed above and have used them ever since. They’re nothing special. In fact, they’re really quite boring.

But they work.

Remember, the rules themselves don’t motivate students to follow them. You do. (To learn how, see other articles, sign up for weekly updates, or read the book Dream Class.) To repeat an often-used refrain on this site, there is no magic in your rules.

But they are an important part of your classroom management plan, and creating them thoughtfully is the first step to having complete classroom control.

Drum roll, please:

1. Listen And Follow Directions

2. Raise Your Hand Before Speaking Or Leaving Your Seat

3. Respect Your Classmates And Your Teacher

4. Keep Hands, Feet, And Objects To Yourself

These four simple rules should cover every behavior that threatens to disrupt your classroom and interfere with learning. However, if you need to, you can always add one more.

Notice that these rules are related to behavior only. I know some teachers like to include learning expectations as well, like, for example, Complete Work On Time or Work Independently. But combining them with behavior rules can be confusing.

Keep your learning expectations separate from your behavior rules.

I’d love to read your comments. I know writing them can be time-consuming, but they’re very much appreciated.

If you haven’t done so already, please join us. It’s free! Click here and begin receiving articles like this one in your email box every week.

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41 Responses to The Only Classroom Rules You’ll Ever Need

  1. Karen August 18, 2009 at 3:17 pm #

    Michael
    I’m curious about the rule “raise your hand before you speak and leave your seat.” I’ve often found that when we are deep in authentic conversation about a book or pondering a math problem together, the class and I get to talking…and we talk a lot which means the rule of raise your hand goes out the window since we’re having a real conversation. How do suggest I handle this rule in this scenerio? This has to be confusing for students because I’m not consistent when I want them to raise their hand? Sometimes I premise our conversations with, “Okay, raise your hands for this one,” but not always.

    Also, do you offer free time when students don’t need permission to leave their seat? Are there exceptions to this rule? Such as retrieving paper, a dictionary, or turning work in?

    I know these seem like simple things but I think it’s these simple things that drive me nuts and take the joy out of teaching at times.

    Thanks for your input and interesting blog articles.

    Karen

    • Michael Linsin August 18, 2009 at 4:32 pm #

      Hi Karen,

      Thanks for your questions and for reading the blog. Yes, this rule applies even when engaged in class discussions. 20-30 students is far too many to allow calling out under any circumstance. And, as you said yourself, this is confusing to students. The only exceptions to this rule are when students are engaged in group work or when you’re leading a small group (less than five). Otherwise, they raise their hands. You can’t sometimes have a rule. It either is or it isn’t. As for leaving seats, simply make an announcement if you want to allow your students to be able to leave their seats for a length of time. For example, before beginning writers’ workshop, announce, “For the next twenty minutes only, you may get up to get paper or a dictionary without raising your hand.”

      Michael

  2. Kathy November 15, 2009 at 5:31 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    I’m in the process of publishing my rules and in deciding the consequences, I wondered what consequence (if any) I should give a student who is disrespectful to the art, music or PE teacher. I want to support their classroom management plan but how effective will it be for me to apply the consequences when I didn’t see them break the rule?

    Thank you for your time.

    Kathy
    4th Grade Math & Science

    • Michael Linsin November 15, 2009 at 6:24 pm #

      Hi Kathy,

      Great question! I believe strongly that a classroom teacher’s influence should extend beyond the four walls of his or her own classroom. It enhances your authority and further establishes you as the leader. The most effective teachers want to know how their students are doing with other teachers, as well as on the playground. So yes, I agree with you 100% that you should have consequences for disrespect toward those who teach art, music, and PE. An apology letter assigned as homework and then hand delivered by the student is, I believe, a must. I would also add the exact consequence you would enforce if the student was disrespectful to you.

      Thanks for your question, Kathy.

      Michael

  3. Julie February 2, 2010 at 10:14 am #

    You should change #3 slightly- Respect yourself, respect others, respect property– only positive choices are made when you respect yourself. Some kids don’t realize that part of the reason they do ‘bad’ things is because they don’t respect themselves– if you don’t respect yourself, how can you respect anything else?

    • Michael Linsin February 2, 2010 at 6:04 pm #

      Hi Julie,

      Thanks for your comment. We certainly want to encourage respect for oneself, and you’re right about its connection to misbehavior. However, the reason why it can’t be included as part of the classroom rules is because it isn’t enforceable.

      Michael

  4. Elizabeth July 27, 2010 at 4:31 am #

    Hello Michael,

    What do you do when you have a student who has poor self-control and calls out in class? Often, it is a student who has ADHD and can’t control themselves. I appreciate your help with this.

    Elizabeth

    • Michael Linsin July 27, 2010 at 6:37 am #

      Hi Elizabeth,

      I wrote about this a few months ago. See the article, How To Get Students To Raise Their Hand. Send me an email if that doesn’t answer all of your questions.

      Michael

  5. Danielle August 11, 2010 at 12:28 am #

    I would be likely to recommend the opposite of these methods. Numerous rules are confusing, just like our laws! I tend to follow a Love and Logic approach. It’s fun, easy and teaches students how to make good choices. I also love to try another rules procedure stating that I have only ONE rule, that is RESPECT. Students love one rule! The key is to have students define Respect: ask them how they should respect each other, materials, books, education, etc. anything you want to cover! I even like to let them make the posters so they take ownership of their own rules. The real answer is finding what works with your own way of teaching. Love and Logic has great one-liners though that get kids thinking!

    • Michael Linsin August 11, 2010 at 7:23 am #

      Hi Danielle,

      It doesn’t seem logical to me, but I wish you luck with it!

      Michael

  6. Mike Schulist July 8, 2011 at 9:58 pm #

    Hi Michael,
    thanks for your clear ideas a out classroom management in your blog and in your Dream Class book. I teach 8th grade science. I’m wondering if you find any particular methods or specific ideas that are effective for this particular age group. Would you use the same four classroom rules, or could you recommend any changes for the 8th grade set?
    Thank you!
    Mike

    • Michael Linsin July 9, 2011 at 8:02 am #

      Hi Mike,

      I would recommend the same four rules. However, with science, you may want to add a fifth rule or a short separate set of rules specific to the use of equipment and materials. Also, if your students work with a lab partner, I’d consider having a set of rules/standards specific to working together–and then model model, model exactly what you want/expect.

      Michael

  7. Matt Aguilar August 17, 2011 at 7:34 pm #

    I really like the rules you posted, they are what I was looking for and plan on using. I was wondering what you thought about the rule “Come to class prepared and ready to learn.”

    Thank you,
    ~Matt

    • Michael Linsin August 18, 2011 at 8:15 am #

      Hi Matt,

      I like it. I think it’s a good, enforceable rule, particularly for middle school students.

      Michael

  8. Mike Caliari August 25, 2011 at 6:27 pm #

    Hi Michael,
    I teach 10th grade World History. I like your rules and will probably “borrow” them for this upcoming year. Do you feel #4 would still work for 10th grade. I almost feel as if it’s a little bit more for the lower grades, but hand and feet problems are still an issue for some students at this level. What do you think?

    • Michael Linsin August 25, 2011 at 7:30 pm #

      Hi Mike,

      If it’s an issue, then definitely include it. However, although I think the rules I recommend work for most classroom situations, it’s important that your rules fit your students and the environment you teach in. Along those lines, I’d like to recommend the article, The Classroom Management Mindset. I think it explains the how and why of creating rules well.

      Michael

  9. Shawn August 26, 2011 at 9:56 pm #

    Hi, Michael. LOVE your site. A question about a rule that I have and most teachers I know also have. Something that goes like this…Be an attentive listener. Part of what that looks like when modeled and practiced is eye contact, voice off, and calm body. My question is, in your rules I don’t see anywhere where you refer to listening. So, let’s say a student is playing with their pencil or shoelaces or simply not making eye contact during a lesson. Clearly that’s a problem, right? How do you enforce that in your classroom? Which rule would that violate?

    Thank you!

    • Michael Linsin August 27, 2011 at 8:08 am #

      Hi Shawn,

      I’m glad you like the site! The student you refer to would indeed receive a consequence. The rule broken would be #1: Listen and follow directions.

      Michael

  10. Shawn September 10, 2011 at 9:48 am #

    Hi, Michael. A question about a behavior and how/where it falls in the plan. If a child is not following basic directions, like he doesn’t take his agenda out to write homework assignments down, then this is clearly a violation of that rule. But what about doing work or completing assignments? So, the math lesson is taught, the assignment is given, but one student does 3-4 questions over the next 30 minutes. He’s capable. That’s not the issue. And this is done throughout the day (and in previous grade levels) in every subject area. Obviously, this is a problem. But is this a BEHAVIOR problem? Does it fall under your discipline plan in any way or do you address that in a different way?

    Thanks!
    Shawn

    • Michael Linsin September 10, 2011 at 10:28 am #

      Hi Shawn,

      Yes, it absolutely falls under your plan. If you ask a student to get on with his work, and he doesn’t despite being capable, then follow your classroom management plan.

      Michael

  11. Ann September 22, 2011 at 10:38 pm #

    Hi Michael,
    I am an Art teacher and see about 1,000 4th, 5th and 6th grade students every two weeks. Most of my classes are fine, however, there are some that have at least 6 to 8 students who are disrespectful and disruptive. Sometimes I feel so drained. Do you have any specific advice for people working with this number of students? Thanks. Ann

    • Michael Linsin September 23, 2011 at 6:34 am #

      Hi Ann,

      I am writing an article on this topic for an art teacher website. I’ll be sure to make note of it, and link to it, in a future article.

      Michael

  12. FATIMAZOHRA November 24, 2012 at 5:51 am #

    LOVE EVERYTHING IN THIS WEBSITE, I m a Moroccan English teacher and need to know international teacher for a workshop!

    • Michael Linsin November 24, 2012 at 8:16 am #

      Hi Fatimazohra,

      Glad you like the site!

      :)Michael

  13. L December 14, 2012 at 7:06 pm #

    I have these rules posted in my class, 4th grade. I have one student who breaks each of these rules every day. The worst is he leaves my class without permission whenever he feels like it. He did it again today and I called the office and they sent someone to look for him, found him, and brought him back to class. This students has detention almost every day because of his behavior. He doesn’t mind loosing recess. His parent has been called many times. Mandatory parent meeting with admin already took place, result was two days lunch detention. He just doesn’t care.

    • Michael Linsin December 15, 2012 at 11:28 am #

      Hi L.

      I encourage you to read through the Difficult Students category of the archive.

      :)Michael

  14. Annie February 9, 2013 at 6:43 am #

    Hello Michael! I have been having some trouble with a simple procedure. Pencils! I have a box where they leave unsharpened pencils and trade them for a sharpened pencil. They constantly get up to trade and sometimes I will check their pencil and see that they intentionally broke the lead. Is there a fix to this? Also I used a classroom money token economy to teach them to save and to be able to reward them individually. All of a sudden one of my students has hundreds of dollars and I am pretty sure he did not save it all up. People have had money go missing and have lost their wallets. It is becoming more frustrating to me than helpful. Should I just stop it completely? I feel sorry for the students who have honestly earned their money but I have no way to prove that the other student was dishonest….

    • Michael Linsin February 9, 2013 at 10:01 am #

      Hi Annie,

      I’ll put managing pencils on the list of future topics. As for your second question, I don’t recommend using a token economy. When you get a chance read through the Classroom Management Plan and Incentives & Praise categories of the archive.

      :)Michael

  15. mwape May 13, 2013 at 11:25 pm #

    hi i would like to hear more about you and the other rules.

  16. Mary July 23, 2013 at 1:23 pm #

    I absolutely love your suggestions. I have been out of the classroom for a few years, but will be teaching 4th Grade this Fall. I will sign up to receive emails.
    Thank you.

    • Michael Linsin July 23, 2013 at 3:53 pm #

      Wonderful, Mary! I’m glad you’ll be joining us.

      :)Michael

  17. David August 5, 2013 at 1:50 pm #

    I would suggest that “raise your hand” is a part of a larger procedure, not a rule. “Respect your classmates and your teacher” is ambiguous.

  18. Melissa Sokol August 9, 2013 at 6:43 am #

    Thank you for your good advice. I have been learning how to do this well for twenty years and after everything I have been through, your strategies are Best Practices.

    • Michael Linsin August 9, 2013 at 8:39 am #

      You’re welcome, Melissa!

      Michael

  19. Melissa August 9, 2013 at 6:49 am #

    Regarding Rules

    Do you break down each rule for the kids (first graders) such as Respect…. What does that look like? How do you get in trouble for not following it?

    For the fifth rule would “Use quiet indoor voices.” be okay?

    • Michael Linsin August 9, 2013 at 8:43 am #

      Hi Melissa,

      To answer your first question, yes, rules and consequences should be taught and modeled thoroughly before they’re implemented. For your second question, it depends. Rule number two takes care of it unless you specifically allow talking in some instances–in which case you’ll want to define those instances for your students.

      Michael

  20. Jeff August 22, 2013 at 6:32 pm #

    I like this one I saw;
    L isten to instructions
    E nter and exit prepared
    A lways try your best
    R espect yourself and others
    N o excuses

  21. Lauren September 4, 2013 at 8:05 am #

    Hi Michael,

    One of the things I’ve instituted in my classrooms over the years is sign language. Instead of a child raising their hand before they leave their seat, they’ve been taught various signs. This allows them the freedom to communicate and ask questions discreetly. For example, when in the middle of teaching, a student may sign “water” or “restroom” to me which indicates that they would like permission to leave their seat and act. A simple head nod on my part either grants or denies their request. I can teach and respond without missing a beat. This practice was instituted because I found that a child always raising their hand to ask for the restroom became a real deterrent from the overall learning. I know some teachers only allow restroom breaks at the 5 minute mark at either end of the class period. That would not work for me as I currently teach preschool. I’ve used this method in grades 3, 4, 6, & 7 as well. The signs also keep hand raising for asking questions or answering them.

    🙂

    Lauren

    • Michael Linsin September 4, 2013 at 4:34 pm #

      Thanks for sharing, Lauren!

      Michael

  22. Erin September 21, 2013 at 10:59 am #

    Hi Michael,

    Thanks so much for sharing these articles. I am revamping my class rules to be more specific and the ones you have here seem great!

    I do have a question about enforcing #3 – Keep Hands, Feet and Objects to Yourself. Sometimes it is obvious when students need a warning (roughhousing, pushing, etc.), but do you enforce this when students give each other hugs, pats on the back, or the fancy handshakes they like to do? Where do you draw the line?

    Thanks!

    • Michael Linsin September 21, 2013 at 3:03 pm #

      Hi Erin,

      No to your first question, which should also answer your second.

      :)Michael