Changing Rules and Procedures

By Scott Sterling

In the Marzano framework, Design Question 6 is all about establishing and maintaining control of a classroom. A common misconception is that classroom management is established early in the year and never has to be modified. As veteran teachers know, this is not the case.

Students may enroll or leave your class. New learning tools may be added that require procedures to be modified. Time schedules during a school year are always in a state of flux. These may all require the teacher to call, in football parlance, an “audible”.

Here are some things to keep in mind whenever you face the need to modify your rules and procedures in the middle of the school year.

Avoid too much change

There are teachers out there who change rules, procedures, or the layout of their classroom at the end of every bad day, thinking the change will be a panacea to what ails the class.

All this does is confuses students or, even worse, signals to them that you lack conviction. Yes, even younger students can come to that conclusion. This obviously causes them to test your limits even more. If you can, avoid changing rules and procedures unless it is truly necessary. Even then, make sure you have a reason that the students will understand.

Consult a fellow teacher or mentor

For any large change, first consult with a fellow veteran teacher or mentor. They can provide a fresh perspective on any changes in context to the long term. If possible, invite them into class for a quick observation without telling them what you are considering. Then, after they’ve seen your class, ask for possible changes before offering your own considerations. You might be surprised at what the two (or more) of you can come up with.

Explain your reasoning

With every change in their routine, students experience stress. They are creatures of habit. This stress can lead to even more behavior that is outside the norm.

Even younger students deserve to know why a rule or procedure is changing. Use kid-friendly language. If the change has to do with certain individuals, refrain from naming them. And make sure you make it known that this will be how things are done for the foreseeable future. Otherwise, they may ignore the change by thinking you will just make another change soon.

Devote some time to reteaching

Effective teachers spend a good amount of time at the beginning of the year teaching their students the rules and procedures of the classroom. They also take time periodically throughout the year to refresh their students’ understanding.

When you change a rule or procedure, this becomes doubly important. It’s simply not enough to post the new rule on the board or mention it at the end of class. Students are creatures of habit. Instead, spend some time and approach this reteaching of the rule or procedure as you would at the beginning of school.

Inform parents

Parents always have a right to know what is going on in their children’s classes. With that in mind, make sure you reach out to parents with the changes being made and your reasoning behind them.

This has two effects. First, parents are then not confused when their child comes home and describes a class working differently than it used to. Second, parents can help reinforce the new rule or procedure at home, doubling your chances of students absorbing the new ways of work.