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Friday, April 25, 2014

Rethink Rules


Hell, there are no rules here - we're trying to accomplish something.   

                                                                                                - Thomas Edison

Rules! Rules! Rules!  Personally I do not like rules.  I feel that they are a weak authoritarian method of demanding compliance.  This, in my opinion, should be the opposite purpose of "school".  I believe that we will accomplish a lot more if we have discussions with our students and explain the "expectations" that we have for our classroom, our community, our integrity.  I believe that students should be included in the conversation about expectations.  They should have the right to give suggestions.  More importantly, they should understand why these expectations exist.  If a teacher wants to have a "RULE" in their classroom about something, they should explain to the students why that rule is important.  I do not think that "because I said so" is a logical reason for the enforcement of a rule.  If a teacher does not allow cell phones in their classroom, that is fine (sort of), as long as there is a thought out logical reason why this is the situation.  The students may have counterarguments, which if given in a safe environment and done respectfully, they should be able to express.  In the end, the decision is the teacher's, because they have responsibility for the class and should have given a great explanation as to the reasoning for the rule.

I allow cell phones in my classroom.  I understand that there are negatives to cell phones, but I want students to figure out how to avoid these negatives.  I have had many times in the past couple years in which students have been texting while I, or another student, was engaged in a discussion with the class.  Every time I have kindly asked them to put their phone away, and said:

"The reason you do not text while someone is talking isn't because IT IS A do not text while someone is talking because IT IS RUDE!"

We are teaching kids.  There are many times in which they fully understand that something is not appropriate, but sometimes I think it is the "rules" that bring out the bad behaviors.

I read a study in the book INFLUENCE by Robert Cialdini (which is one of the best books I have ever read).  In the book they tell the story of a daycare that was continuously having customers that would be late in picking up their children.  They were supposed to get them by 5:00, but many people would often be late.  The day care brainstormed some solutions and decided to make a RULE.  They said that if you pick up your child late, there would be an additional FEE that you would have to pay.  This way, they figured that people would realize they will lose money if they are late and will stop from being late.  NOPE.  The opposite happened.  More people were late.  Why?  The reasoning, which has been tested in other situations, is that this situation gave them a very clear "punishment" for being late.  Now, they had to pay a fee, which made everything between the daycare and the parent "Okay" again.  When parents had this option, they did not have to feel guilty about letting "real people" down by not following the expectations.  When they were late, there was no guilty conscience, they were dealt with according to the rules.

Students are making the same decisions.  What if I do text.  For Mr. Jones that might be bad because he will take it away.  For Mr.Thompson that might be okay, because he will just ask us to put it away again (for the 50th time) and that isn't that big of a deal.  If you have rules, with consequences, expect people to weigh the pros and cons and decide whether or not to do it.  Maybe if you make the punishments bad enough (or the rewards big enough) students will all comply.....but what happens when these rules are not in place in the real world.  In the real world you can carry a cell phone, go to the bathroom when you need to, wear a hat, etc....  I hear so many older people say that young adults and kids have "no respect" these days. If not at home, where would they have learned this respect?

Allow students to have integrity.  Explain to students the importance of integrity and honesty.  Hang up a poster that says:

If you have integrity, nothing else matters.  If you don't have integrity, nothing else matters.

Have weekly discussions about the importance of integrity and "doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do".  Explain to students that when they are disrespectful, dishonest, or unethical, they lost integrity and that will not play out very well in the real world.
It takes a while, but if you plant the right seeds, they grow into beautiful trees.

Again, I have had many times that students have been disrespectful.  I have had students text while I was talking, show up late for class too often, abuse bathroom privileges, etc.... but these have provided countless teachable moments for me to talk with these people about integrity, trust, and respect.  In my opinion, these are the most important lessons and topics that we can teach students (even more important than mitosis, the Calvin Cycle, the Pythagorean theorem, the geography of Canada, and Grapes of Wrath).  Not every student will comply, but hopefully it starts to sink in.  It is unfortunate that we have to go through such important times and development without the most important asset of all:  Wisdom.  By allowing students to fail, adjust, fail, adjust, fail, adjust.....we are helping them develop that necessary wisdom in a low-risk and controlled environment.  Over time they will learn about why "fair is not always equal" and why it is important to develop and sustain honesty and integrity.

Maybe they should add honesty and integrity and character as "standards" in our schools before they disappear.  

Said the teacher, ironically, right after complaining to another teacher that students have no integrity these days and that our school does not have enough technology.

"...knowledge without integrity, is dangerous and dreadful."
-Samuel Johnson


Oliver Schinkten
Twitter:  @schink10
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