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Engagement, Opinion, Promising Practices, Teaching

Students determine the classroom rules

How we achieved sanity during Spring Fever

Every year at this time, right when the cherry blossoms are reminding us that the grey days of winter are almost gone, my Grade 8 students go crazy. They start taking a really long time to settle down into the silent reading period that starts most of our classes. They can’t help but talk to a buddy across the room. They squirm around in their desks and look to their groups for conversation, until I remind them to open their books and start reading. And then I remind them again. And again.

A couple week ago I realized that I had turned into a nag: I do Not. Like. Nagging.

Every year at this time, right when the cherry blossoms are reminding us that the grey days of winter are almost gone, my Grade 8 students go crazy. They start taking a really long time to settle down into the silent reading period that starts most of our classes. They can’t help but talk to a buddy across the room. They squirm around in their desks and look to their groups for conversation, until I remind them to open their books and start reading. And then I remind them again. And again.

A couple week ago I realized that I had turned into a nag: I do Not. Like. Nagging.

Once they were quiet I spoke in this voice that I only use when I’m really upset in a stern way. It’s my “teacher voice” and I cannot invoke it on demand. It just comes naturally in these situations – and it silences a room in seconds.

“I’m going to leave the room and you are going to figure out what needs to change. The way I see it, two things can happen. We can put these tables in rows and do silent, individual seat work for the rest of the term; or, you can go back to respecting this classroom and all of our learning by being here on time and prepared for the lesson. This class has gotten way too relaxed, and I can change that or you can. I’ll give you five minutes or so.”

Then I opened my office door (which thankfully runs adjacent to my classroom) and closed it behind me. The classroom burst into noisy conversation until a couple girls elected themselves leaders and went to the board to brainstorm how they were going to change; it hadn’t taken them more than five seconds to come to consensus on avoiding academic lockdown.

My bad mood dissipated as I listened casually to the discussion through my glass office door. They were identifying all their misplaced energy and behaviours. There were lots of “she shouldn’t have to ask us to” and “We should remind each other to”.

A few minutes later a timid knock summoned me back into the classroom. I sat down at a desk as one of the leaders turned to address me on behalf of the class. Here is what she talked me through.

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“These are the Commandments, Ms Moore!” said Taven.

“And this is what you all feel good about? You’re going to abide by this code of conduct?”

Everyone nodded.

“We all agree, Ms Moore – but I’m thinking we should also make this into a poster, so we don’t forget it.”

And so far, no one has. The list of “Commandments” is not elaborate by any means. Everything on that list is a basic expectation for most classrooms. But, it’s theirs – they own it and that is making all the difference.