I used to be a classic rules-and-consequences teacher. It was the “if-then” approach to classroom management. “If you chew gum, you get a detention. If you talk too much, you write (insert silly promise here) 100 times. If you put your head down, you must stand during class.” The list went on and on, and I declared year after year to my students that it was my way or the highway. Once, I even made a chronic offender come in after school and scrape gum off of the floor and the underside of desktops. Word spread rapidly that Mr. Barnes was not to be trifled with, and I was proud of the reputation.

What I failed to comprehend in my “I’m-the-meanest-teacher-in-the-school” approach was that I had created a classroom based on control, and I was alienating my students, and my creation was alienating my students. They may have, on occasion, acquiesced to my list of demands, but most of the time their compliance came at the price of learning. After all, what child would embrace education in this kind of militant classroom?

When I rebuilt my class into what I call a Results Only Learning Environment (ROLE), I knew that rules and consequences and the my-way-or-the-highway approach to classroom management had to be vanquished. In their place, with the help of my students, I turned my classroom into a student-centered learning community that is founded on mutual respect and the understanding that I’m no longer interested in the kind of control that accompanies rules.

A big part of making this no-rules, no-consequences approach work is changing the look and feel of your classroom. It’s important to leave the outdated, comfortable teaching model that puts the educator front and center. As teacher and presenter Nevin Jenkins says in “Shut Up and Teach,” “We have a paradigm of what teaching looks like. This paradigm usually includes the teacher in the front ‘teaching’ students who are at their seats” (2011). If the rest of the paradigm is students in rows of desks, filling in blanks on worksheets and listening to stodgy lectures, problems are likely to arise. These disruptions are, in most cases, due to boredom. Even adults are unruly when bored; if you doubt this assertion, scan the room at your next faculty meeting.

A no-rules, no-consequences learning community, based on cooperation and filled with exciting activities and projects engages students and eliminates boredom. When students are working collaboratively, using technology, leaving their seats and, yes, even chewing gum, they are more likely to complete activities and projects and less likely to be disruptive. Rules and consequences, in this bustling, student-centered classroom, are easily replaced with discussions of mutual respect, individual conferences with those who take longer to embrace the controlled chaos that governs the room and rapport-building rather than strictness.

If you are a my-way-or-the-highway, rules-and-consequences teacher, picture yourself in a Results Only Learning Environment — a place where students work in groups, sit in beanbag chairs or maybe on the floor, make decisions about their learning and even discuss their grades with their teacher. Are you ready for the change? Your students most likely are.

Mark Barnes is a 20-year classroom teacher and adjunct professor at two Ohio colleges. He is the creator of Learn It In 5, an award-winning how-to video website for educators. When not teaching middle-school students the love of reading, Barnes teaches five online courses about Web 2.0 and social media integration into any classroom. Look for Barnes’ new book, “Role Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-Centered Classroom,” due in this month and published by ASCD. Barnes blogs regularly at ASCDEdge and tweets @markbarnes19.

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One Response to “Throw out rules and consequences, and let your classroom manage itself”

  1. Spence says:

    You make a good point.