And at first glance, it appears to be a good one.
But dig deeper into the whys and hows of effective classroom management, and you’ll discover it to be a mistake.
The idea behind the strategy is to provide students with a sense of ownership by guiding them through the construction of class rules you already have in mind.
If you trust them with this important part of your classroom structure, the argument goes, they’ll be more likely to buy into your classroom management plan.
They’ll be more likely to feel a sense of responsibility and less likely to dismiss, reject, or complain about rules they themselves came up with.
So what’s not to like?
Well, the problem with the strategy is that it can undermine your leadership presence. It can negatively affect how your students see you and your role as their teacher.
You see, if in any way you communicate that you’re in partnership with your students when determining the direction of your classroom, it will weaken your authority.
They’ll view you not as a confident leader who knows what is best for them and their education, but as an unsure cohort who makes suggestions they can either take or leave. This, in turn, can make enforcing your rules significantly more difficult.
It will increase the likelihood of arguments over what does and doesn’t constitute breaking them. It will cause a reluctance to go to time-out—or an outright refusal—rather than an acceptance of wrongdoing.
Your students will be less likely to take responsibility and more likely to sulk, complain, or blame you for holding them accountable.
The unintended message students receive by taking part in creating the very boundaries of your classroom is that everything is negotiable, which then opens the floodgates to debate on matters that should only be decided by you.
This view of teacher as partner tends to be especially problematic with difficult students, who are quick to fill any void you leave them. Unless you establish yourself as the clear leader from the get-go, they’ll spend the year trying to wrest control from you.
Having a teacher students trust to be at the helm from morning bell to dismissal has a calming effect on the tone and tenor of your classroom. It allows your students to relax, enjoy school, and concentrate on learning.
This isn’t to say that they should never be given the opportunity to make decisions. You can still encourage a sense of ownership by letting your students vote on matters unrelated to the course and direction of your classroom.
Do you want to play this math game or that one?
Do you want to give your presentations before or after lunch?
Do you want to do the lesson inside or outside on the grass?
There are dozens of opportunities to allow students to make decisions that don’t interfere with your role and position as their teacher.
The truth is, you and your students have distinctly different responsibilities. Problems large and small arise when those responsibilities become confused or intertwined.
By presenting your rules as non-negotiable boundaries that you put into place for the express purpose of protecting their right to learn and enjoy school, you establish yourself as a compassionate leader who puts their interests first.
You establish yourself as a leader worth following.
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