As An Educational Troublemaker, Is It Any Surprise That I’m Questioning “Rules” Next?

Yesterday, I joined some other educators in a blogging challenge. The challenge extended from one that a group of us did last summer: #5days5words. As someone who likes to break the rules, I guess it’s no surprise that I did so again. Instead of focusing on 5 words, I’m going to focus on 5 questions. My question for today is actually about rules: Why do we begin with them?

As I mentioned to a fellow educator today, I’ve been teaching for a very long time: I’m about to start my 19th year. I’ve taught every grade from Kindergarten to Grade 6 in some capacity, and I’ve changed a lot in these 19 years. Maybe I’ve changed the most around rules. I always started off the school year with a list of rules.

  • I’ve tried co-created lists.
  • I’ve tried lists that focus on the positives.
  • I’ve tried lists of things not to do.
  • I’ve tried long lists of rules and short lists.
  • Sometimes I changed “rules” to “agreements,” but really, they were still rules.

In the last few years though, rules have really started to bother me. Even just the mention of rules gives me that funny feeling in the pit of my stomach. I realized recently that Paula and I never created or posted rules for our children. What?! It must have been chaos in our roomExcept, it wasn’t. This made me wonder, why?

  • Could it be that when we view children as “competent and capable” (as our Kindergarten Program Document reinforces for us), we begin to trust that children can make thoughtful decisions on their own and support each other in doing so?

  • Could it be that rules fall into a self-control paradigm, and maybe we need to consider children’s actions — like adult ones — through a Self-Reg lens?

I would like to believe that students can make good decisions and kind choices on their own, and if there’s a problem, there might be something else at play. Just like with adults, children also learn from these problems, and therefore, rules evolve authentically through lived experiences.

  • Will lists of what to do and not do, help with behaviour?
  • Do we really want our first interactions with kids to be in-depth conversations around what to do and how to be in our classrooms and schools?

Knowing the value of building positive relationships, I think that the rule writing of my past never really supported this. How do you create the rules in your classroom? Are formalized rules a crucial element to the start of every school year? Maybe there’s room for a little troublemaking in all of us!


4 thoughts on “As An Educational Troublemaker, Is It Any Surprise That I’m Questioning “Rules” Next?

  1. Thanks Aviva, I have to think this one out for September. I haven’t given it this much thought. My issue with the list of rules . . . They eventually disappear in use as the year progresses. They are hung in the room as a visual reminder of our first attempt to set a structure. My first thought is that we need to consider what were the goals of this list? To set a routine? To sum up our hopes and aspirations with kids we just met (which I think is a lofty goal with a list of four points)? To develop a rapport (and what kind of rapport)? I also think that the list does not damage this rapport or the routines hoped for, but as you point out . . . Are there more productive / effective ways to reach that goal? I’ll keep thinking . . . ~Enzo

    • Thanks for your comment, Enzo! I think that figuring out why we want/need these rules is a great idea, and really delving into what we hope to accomplish, might also help with our focus. I do wonder if these lists of rules could impact on our rapport with students in some way. What message are we sending to kids when we write them? What about the child that struggles? How might he/she feel? While not intentional, I do wonder the impact. I’m curious to hear what you decide to do next year.


      • Hi Aviva, I like your thinking. Part of the problem with the list of rules is the fact that it is not sustained over 10 months (I would even say even 1 month). It’s really hard to say how that approach would affect the type of students you mention. I recall one year, my teaching partner and I created drama type scenarios of common issues in the class (e.g. bullying, iPad usage). The kids acted out the scenarios and we had discussions. We wanted to build empathy and understanding. (How do your actions affect others?) We developed “best practices.” Anyway, that was far more meaningful than the list. My point is that the list signifies one VERY particular tool in setting routines. It can be part of an overall program to set rules and routines. If we think it’s not very significant . . . Then it can be easily omitted with little negative effects since the goal remains the same . . . Do something more meaningful.

        • Thanks for the reply, Enzo! I really like your thinking around reflection and maybe doing something more meaningful. This makes me think of an important question in the Kindergarten Program Document: “Why this learning for this child at this time?” Could this question be key when it comes to rules? When and how we address them may vary depending on kids, time, and specific issues. Thank you for having me think some more about this!


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