Create Compelling Classroom Rules for Students

Making rules is tricky. Most people, regardless if they are teachers in the classroom or politicians in the government, have a misconception that rules should prescribe the wishes of those in power. But, teachers who want to create and enforce compelling classroom rules need to understand that rules are there to describe the best way to finish a task.

You are not rewarding anyone just because some paper says so, nor are you punishing misbehaving students because they are annoying you. Everything you do is to accomplish the task of the class; learning as much as possible about the subject in the given time.

This minuscule adjustment in your approach will change the entire process and make it much easier to create specific rules for your classroom that will help every student thrive, as well as reduce your stress levels.

Depends on the Age

Although all rules will have a similar starting point, how they are expressed and enforced will depend on the age of your students. While younger pupils will accept many rules as they are and you might be able to deal with outliers ad hoc, for older classes that may be near impossible.

If you are the one tasked with the socialization of kids, which has nowadays sadly fallen from the parents to the teachers, you might have a better head start. Most kids will see you are a quasi-parental figure and you can use that position to make the rules flexible.

But for teenagers and older, this is exactly the opposite of what you want. Teens tend to not always listen to their parents, so you are only placing yourself as a surrogate for rebellion. Your position towards older kids would be more akin to a sergeant and their troops. Your job is to find the best tactical way to finish the mission, and not to have anyone court-marshaled in the process.

Online and Offline – What is the Difference?

Online is easier if you know how to use the tools provided. But, in general, there is little difference in how you will be forming the rules. Sanctions and benefits given will also vary, but not their meaning.

From a philosophical standpoint, a one-on-one teaching arrangement can allow more leisure to talk about deeper morality, facts of life, and discussing rules. However, when you have thirty kids in the class, your approach must be more utilitarian.

Facilitating good behavior can assist more students in acquiring more knowledge. Bad behavior can prevent others from learning. The best rules are those that turn bad behavior into good, where you learn how to take the problems of your class and turn them into advantages.

Thankfully, that is not as hard to do as it sounds. It only takes a bit of patience and common sense.

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Universal Rules

Most rules will need to formed on your own, drawing upon your experience as a teacher. But, some basic rules are always the same and you will need to follow them yourself.

To create compelling classroom rules that your students will want to follow, you will need to establish a solid framework that will support these rules. Remember that kids are not rebellious by nature, but rather idealistic in that everyone wants to do well and be a good student.

#1 Practice What You Preach

Don’t establish rules that you don’t follow.

For instance, if you punish tardiness you had better make sure you’re not late to class – ever!

Most teachers sadly disregard this simple rule because they place themselves outside of the classroom. This is a serious mistake and a certain way for other rules to fall on deaf ears. You must always lead by example.

And, if there is something that you do which is not beneficial to your class, don’t punish the students for doing the same. If they are old enough (teens) it would might be beneficial to discuss how much time you are losing by being late, and propose a solution. The ‘joint effort’ will yield much better results than punishment.

#2 Contexts vs. Content

Content is king, but context is God.

The fact that years of training in your field have left you with loads of knowledge is not uncommon. But your role is not to be like Google and provide simple trivia to your class. Your students will reject your knowledge if you are constantly trying to teach them something they can ask their phone and get an answer in seconds.

Meanwhile, if you teach by context, they will remember everything. Don’t answer the ‘what’ but the ‘why’, and force your students to think about the same. They are there for your experience as an educated human, not as a data repository.

#3 Be Clear With the Rules


Try to not go crazy and keep to no more than five rules. This should help the confidence of every student that they can answer exactly what should and shouldn’t be done.

Make sure that every student understands these rules and why they are important. This is the best way to make the rules internalized and self-enforced by the students, without the need for you to repeat them again and again.

#4 Encourage Cooperation

Back to the parallel about a sergeant and soldiers – you want your students to cooperate. Just as they would work together for learning and doing projects, they should also work to keep the class functional and productive.

One of the best ways to do this is to make both punishments and rewards collective. This will incentivize your students to encourage each other to do well and to follow the rules. Also, they will dissuade those who would like to break the rules. This is similar to the popular story about the four monkeys and a banana and can yield the same results as that interesting story.

#5 Real-World Application

A good teacher will always give real-world examples of where the knowledge they are teaching is used. It can be useful to form compelling classroom rules in that same manner as well.

For example, why is cheating wrong? Asking others for help to finish a task is a good thing, so why not on a test?

Because if you advance in life by cheating, especially at the expense of others, they will abandon you, and soon there will be nobody to ask and you will know nothing yourself. Cheating is not hurting the teacher, it is hurting the student that cheats. And the student should know it.

With just a bit of research, similar examples can be found for any good rule.

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Keep up to Date

While basic rules stay the same, the references and tools of enforcement can change. As we have seen during online classes, teachers must keep up with both technology and culture if they want to have all of the tools they need to create compelling classroom rules and interesting lectures.

Apart from the tools, there is the culture within your group of students. You don’t need to like it, but you need to know about it. From TV shows and movie references to memes and video games, not only can you have a bit of fun in applying this culture, but knowing these things will help you speak the language of your students.


Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and relax. Keeping your cool at all times and having a calm approach to everything will increase your authority and lower your stress level.

If you fall into the mindset of Sisyphus rolling that bolder every day, your carrier in education will become what it was for Sisyphus – a personal hell. But if you approach it as a normal task and rekindle the joy of putting young minds onto the right track, you will come smiling to work every day.

Also, don’t be dissuaded by setbacks. Issues are bound to occur, and you will be there to solve them. We realistically cannot expect all kids to be geniuses that will change the world, but you can at least try for them to move on from your class as better people than when they started it.


Creating compelling classroom rules is not easy because of the emotional pressure of dealing with young people. But, if you change your approach and trim down the unneeded parts, you will be left with pure gold.

Keep your rules short and understandable, and try to help your kids themselves internalize them. That way you can focus on the important stuff and leave the enforcement to your students and their collective sense of morality.