New Teacher Series/ Question 7: Should I create a classroom policy list or go by school policy?

Policies, procedures, and protocols. Oh my!  These words seem to have floated out of the business world and right into the classroom in the last decade.  They provide neat working labels for all the tasks that ensure the efficient and effective operation of your classroom.  Let me state from the get-go:  It doesn’t matter what you call them – rules, expectations, contracts, policies, norms, agreements— they only work if you enforce them with consistency and fairness.

These boundaries and parameters aren’t designed to create fascism in the classroom.  In fact, just the opposite.  When the infrastructure of organization and management are communicated and observed, the real meat of the classroom—learning and discovery—happen more smoothly.  Here are three levels of management that need to be communicated to your classroom early and often: expectations, procedures, and policies.

Expectations:  Expectations are broad, general statements that set the tone of your classroom. Expectations form the philosophy or the guiding mission/ vision statement of the classroom. They also establish the culture of the room, and create a”this is who we are” declaration.  Expectations might be something like:  Respect yourself and others; Be on time and prepared; Always do your best; Follow directions the first time they’re given. I only have three expectations in my class, which are directed at me as much as they are for my kids.

  1. Civility: I will treat each of you with respect, courtesy, and support; I expect each one of you to extend that same respect and support to me, to my teaching assistants, and to each other.
  2. Commitment: I will push each of you to achieve your potential. I will follow up on homework assignments, contact parents, and encourage you to be the best writer you can be.   I want you to make a commitment to become a more creative, independent, and powerful writer.
  3. Community: We are a team.  We are a family. A success for one of us is a success for all of us.  We are all going to become better writers this year, and we are going to be kind and supportive toward each other.

Procedures:  Procedures represent the “this is how we do” of your class.  Establishing procedures will save you hours of directing, correcting, and re-directing.  Figure out the following procedures for your classroom and communicate these to your students during the first week and every day afterward until it becomes automatic:

  • entering and exiting the room
  • passing in seatwork
  • turning in homework
  • turning in late work
  • turning in school forms
  • picking up graded work
  • picking up make-up work
  • picking up school forms
  • signing out for a restroom pass
  • using cell phones
  • checking out technology
  • collecting money for field trips/fund raisers
  • requesting assistance for seat work
  • requesting assistance for after-school tutoring
  • managing noise levels for seat work
  • managing noise levels group work
  • calling on students for answers
  • selecting students for group work
  • moving in and out of small groups
  • moving in and out of whole group activities
  • bus/fire/tornado/earthquake/active shooter drills

In 2008, I counted up 22 different procedures in my classroom.  Some were scripted, some were posted; some were just understood.  All of the procedures were consistent so kids knew the ropes of the classroom without having to rely on me to tell them.

Policies:  When I hear the word “policies,” I mostly think about the rules that govern the student body and apply to all students, but many teachers have classroom policies that are separate from their expectations and their procedures.  These are mostly classroom rules that are aligned with the larger school policy for that particular issue.  For example, if the school policy states that no hats are to be worn in the building, then your classroom policy should uphold that.  School policies are often determined by the district or a school’s site-based council as they relate to the entire organization.  Issues such as the dress code, absences, tardiness, cheating, plagarism, fighting, profanity, sexual harrassment, and drug use will have a policy listed in the student handbook. At my school, every class watches a school policy Powerpoint, which explains the policies of the school and the consequences for breaking those policies, during the first week of school.

So, to answer your question, “Should I create a classroom policy list or just go by the schools?” The answer is yes!   Always follow and uphold the school policies and also establish broad philosophical expectations and the very specific procedures.

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