How to Get Your Students to Buy-in to Classroom Rules


Getting students to understand and accept classroom rules is the first step to harmony and an art that can be mastered with patience and a little help from the experts.

Classroom rules exist for a reason. As a teacher, you know that without firm, clear rules, your classroom would fall into chaos and nothing would ever get done. Getting students to buy into that concept and not only accept, but embrace your rules can be a challenge, but one that is well worth pursuing. There are some clever ways to help students see the need for regulations and get them involved in classroom planning. This can make management easier and empower young minds to make good choices in and out of the classroom.

Set Clear Goals

As counterintuitive as it may seem on the surface, children are happier when they have rules to follow. Knowing your expectations as a teacher gives them a clear sense of where they stand and what's expected of them. Understanding why the rules exist can connect action with consequence and can make following those rules easier. Julia G. Thompson, a veteran school teacher, has the following advice for making successful classroom rules:

  • Regulations should be easy to remember
  • They should help to create order
  • Rules should follow school district standards
  • Classroom rules should be age-appropriate and clear
  • Parents should agree that they are in the best interests of the students
  • Rules Should be fair to s large a percentage of the class as possible
  • Make the rules enforceable

So, how do you do that without becoming overwhelmed or seeming like an ogre in the process? has some suggestions.

Keep it Positive
Happy Student

It's easy to phrase your expectations in terms of what you don't want from your class; 'No Running' or 'No Yelling' written on the wall will get their attention but not necessarily their compliance. Instead, phrasing the rules in positive terms, such as 'Quiet Voices Please, Other classes are working' not only tells the students what you expect, it also tells them why. Plus, it provides an opportunity to build their powers of empathy by imagining the effect of their behavior on the people around them.

Keep it Open

Keeping the rules broad - but not vague - can help you to cover many issues at once, but be careful not to muddy the waters. Specific regulations like 'No hair pulling' and 'No name calling' can become 'Be respectful', which could cover any type of bullying behavior. It will also cover any new behaviors that may crop up over the course of the year that you haven't even considered yet.

Seek Clarity

While broad lists are useful, they shouldn't be so vague that your students don't know what you mean. 'Do Good Work' can mean 'Do your Best' but a self-conscious student may hear 'Only Students Who Score Well Have Value'. Make sure that your language is age-appropriate and clear. 'Always Give Your Best Effort' provides clear expectations while letting your student know that working at their level and giving it their all is what you want.

Consequences should be clear as well. Rules have no meaning if there is no downside to ignoring them. Providing students with clear ramifications that are directly related to the rules can help them to see the link between negative behavior and corrective action.


Keeping your list brief, shorter for younger students and a little longer for those in middle and high school, will make it easier for students to remember and less oppressive. The idea is to give students guidelines that make sense without making them feel as though your classroom is a dictatorship.

Get Students Involved
Student Involvement

Posting classroom rules is a great idea. It can be a visual reminder of what your expectations are at a glance. But don't let the instruction end there. Introducing classroom rules can be an excellent opportunity to connect with your students and get them to consider why those rules exist. After you have delivered your entertaining lesson on class rules, break students up into small groups and allow them to explore how and why they apply to them. ScienceNetlinks offers some examples of open-ended questions to help start the conversation:

  • Why does the class have each of these rules?
  • Do they have similar rules at home? In other areas of their lives?
  • What rules wouldn't work in another environment?
  • What might happen if they chose not to follow the rules?
  • Do they feel these rules are important? Fair? Why or why not?

Asking students to write these rules in a notebook, along with their answers, can help them to solidify the concepts, improve their writing, and give them a reference for later in the year when the lesson begins to fade.

Be Flexible

While classroom rules should be consistent, it's likely that some change will occur as the year progresses. During certain activities, you may choose to ignore parts of it altogether. Acknowledging that, and discussing it with your students, allows them to see the importance of flexibility. This discussion can be an effective opportunity to learn about coping with changes as they happen and give them more tools to use as they become more independent.

By Patricia Willis
October 2016
teachers classroom management

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