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Rules Are Back in Style

Voice of ExperienceRon Clarks's runaway best-selling book, The Essential 55: An Award-Winning Educator's Rules for Discovering the Successful Student in Every Child, has educator Brenda Dyck reflecting on the resurgence of classroom rules. Included: Tips and Web resources for personalizing your own classroom rules.

Disney's 2001 Teacher of the Year, Ron Clark, is really onto something. Teachers and parents across the country are clamoring for his new book, The Essential 55: An Award-Winning Educator's Rules for Discovering the Successful Student in Every Child. Many bookstores are sold out. I don't recall a teacher's book ever getting this kind of interest, especially one that is chock full of rules -- 55 of them to be exact. Rules like:

  • If you win or do well at something, do not brag.
  • When responding to any adult, you must answer by saying "Yes ma'am" or "No sir."
  • Do not talk in a movie theater.
  • Stand up for what you believe in.
  • Do not save seats.

Could it be that all of us are thirsty for some good, old-fashioned standards to help steer our students in the right direction?

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As I approach the beginning of the school year, I too am thinking about the rules I want for my own classroom. All that thinking got me reflecting on a few things I have learned about creating rules


The beginning of the school year is the best time to introduce rules and procedures to students. That fact was driven home to me the year I requested that my students "go in the front door and out the back"-- in November.

For two months I had wondered why there was such chaos at my front door during a class change. Pushing, shoving, sometimes even injuries -- all because two classes were colliding as they moved in opposite directions!

I had a mighty hard time enforcing my rule that year; they just couldn't seem to get it. The next year I explained the door rule to my new class the first hour I had them. After a week they had the procedure down to perfection.


Students are more likely to adhere to rules that they have had some say creating; so it is well worthwhile to actively involve students in the process of creating those rules. Teacher Ellen Berg did just this when she designed a Classroom Constitution project that used the U.S. Constitution as a jumping-off point for her students. The project involved students in learning about an important historical document as they examined their own beliefs, rights, and responsibilities in their classroom.

Somehow rules take on a whole new meaning when the students are the ones who made the rules.


Rule 2 of Ron Clark's "Essential 55" states Make eye contact. When someone is speaking, keep your eye on him or her at all times. If someone makes a comment, turn and face that person.

Sometimes we forget that the rules we make for our students should apply to us as well. Ron Clark's rule about making "eye contact when you are speaking to someone" seemed to have my name on it. I hate to think of the times I've sat at my desk, head down, writing like mad or marking a test, while a young boy or girl tried to make small talk with me. In the name of multi-tasking, I've continued with my work, usually offering a one or two word response, sometimes not even aware of who I was talking to. Why is it easier to require my students to make eye contact when interacting with me than it is to do it myself? The answer to this question has reminded me of the importance of modeling the same respectful behaviors that I want to see in my students.

Could it be that in a moment of inspiration, one of our students will write a student version of the Essential 55 book -- one targeted to their teachers? I wonder what rules our students would create? Maybe I should give them the assignment...


Article by Brenda Dyck
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Updated 07/20/2010