Are Children Being Over-Ruled in Schools?

My favorite animated film in recent history is Inside Out; the one where the story is told from inside the mind of a girl named Riley and the characters are her feelings. Each of the characters, named Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust, and Sadness, supervise Riley’s life and produce her responses by operating a control panel of knobs and levers.  Besides the beautiful scenery, nostalgic scenes, and hysterical one-offs, I loved the movie the most because I saw so many possibilities for how I could use it in the classroom as an approach to the socio-emotional side of teaching.

Yep.  I can’t turn my teacher brain off even when reclined in a comfy chair, stuffed with buttered popcorn and a white cherry ICEE.

So when I stumbled upon “Children Are at School to Learn, Not to Behave”, my own Internal Feelings Squad sounded off in a chorus something like this:

I clicked on the article and began reading, determined to line up my arguments for why I thought children were absolutely at school to both learn AND behave.  One can’t happen without the other…obviously. As it turns out, the article doesn’t say that children shouldn’t behave in school.  Rather, it made a case for why it might be appropriate to rethink how rules are phrased and used in classrooms.

1. There is a difference in behaving and behaving for learning.

The author, David Didau, lists standard classroom rules, like:He states that these rules promote “good” behavior, but don’t directly connect said “good” behavior to learning outcomes.  Does keeping hands, feet, and objects to yourself help you learn fractions? And if so, is that made clear to the students, who are being told how to behave?

Interesting premise.  So I started reflecting on my own practice.

Daily, I rattle off an astounding number of rules at my students.  I might be over-ruling them.

And I’ve justified that because I teach students inside the museums and cultural institutions in Washington, DC.  Rules like “Keep hands off the million-dollar sculpture,” and “Walk calmly so we don’t knock Frederick Douglass’ priceless violin off his priceless piano” seem REALLY important.  And they are really important. But if you look, those rules solely address behavior, not behavior for learning.

2. The current commanding narratives teachers learn for behavior management don’t address the why.

We’ve been trained in every behavior management strategy from utilizing sticker charts, to planning highly engaging lessons, to crafting airtight lists of rules.  But the author posits that, while a quiet classroom in which every student is following instructions might appear to be “every classroom’s holy grail,” students might not know the why behind the behavior that is asked of them.

He then lists off a different set of rules, from the Project for Enhancing Effective Learning (PEEL).  Some of them are:The tone of this set of behaviors for learning is entirely different than the rules for behavior, but to me, either set of rules by itself falls short.  What if we combine the two?

Yes, these are wordy rules and may not be age-appropriate for younger learners, but the idea that we as teachers are asking our students to perform not so we can be in control but so our students can freely learn is certainly one I am exploring more.

Though I haven’t consistently incorporated this into my teaching practice, each time I’m about to rattle of a list of rules at my students (which is most days), I take a half-second pause and attempt a fresh way of delivering expectations.

Maybe avoiding over-ruling my students will add a little more Joy to our time learning together.

This article is not new (2012) and this idea might not be new to you, but it’s new to me.  What are some ideas you have for rules that promote behavior for learning?

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