George Lucas Educational Foundation
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I am a Social Studies and English teacher by trade. I have a fondness for American Literature and History because they are woven together very closely. Indeed, they are two facets of the same innovative and collaborative process: Determining how our newly formed nation would function. When it comes to important American documents, I find myself teaching them in a government class and a literature class.

The Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution are great guides for setting up classroom rules. By using them as a template, your students can also have a hand in creating the classroom environment.

In all of my classes, I have a basic set of rules regarding language, materials, homework, tests, etc. I place all of these in a syllabus and give a copy to each student. Within the first few weeks of school, we cover The Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. We dive into the complaints the colonists had with the crown and discuss which side had the right to be angry.

After that discussion, I let the students create a Student Declaration of Independence using the US version as a guide. The students are allowed to take issue with any or all of my class rules and the rules of the school as a whole. It is always interesting to see what students take issue with over the years. After this project, we cover the US Constitution.

After reading the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, I issue a challenge to the students. I tell them to come up with their own set of laws (rules) to govern their class period. The laws need to be reasonable and as President, I have the right to veto any law that is against school/district policy. They are only allowed to present five laws, so they need to be careful what they choose to present.

Students then break into groups and come up with different laws they want to present. Some focus on later work or extra credit. Others are about being late to class or class parties. Since students have the code of conduct in a planner they were all issued at the start of the year, they can check to see if their proposed laws break school or district policy. The class is active for a few days as kids work together to negotiate which laws they want to present and how they intend to argue for their laws. It is an exciting atmosphere.

Once all of the laws are presented, I take a day to review them and create a poster board, for each class, listing my laws and their new laws. These poster boards hang on the walls for the entire year for all to see.

It is always fun to see other classes kick themselves for not thinking of a specific law that another class presented.

It is important to let students be part of the process when creating classroom rules. When students can take ownership of something, they take it more seriously. Over the years, my kids have had a good time, and never disputed any of the rules for the year. There was a mutual respect when it came to discipline because they had a hand in creating the rules.

How do you get students to participate in creating a positive classroom atmosphere?

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Sarah's picture

The way you establish classroom rules sounds very engaging; you bring the process to life in your classroom. In addition to teaching these documents in a way that is understandable and interesting to high school students, you are also teaching many social skills at the same time: cooperation, how to critically think about fairness, prioritizing the importance of various ideas and beliefs, how to respectfully disagree and make a case for an alternative opinion, and more.

In reading over your basic set of rules that are included in the syllabus and the starting point for the class activities, it appears that respect is the true rule. When students are respectful to the teacher and one another they are prepared for class, staying on task, passing in work on time, etc. Do you think the students would come up with the finer points/procedures you have listed if the starting point of conversation was simply 'respect'?

The process you use to create rules with each class has many similarities to the Responsive Classroom rule creation practice. Using students' input to decide what is important to them, giving them the power to create the rules, guiding them to consolidate and compromise, and ending with a set of rules that is agreed upon by everyone empowers the students and creates the foundation for a strong learning community. It is fascinating to see how this process I am familiar with, which is used with elementary-age students, can be mirrored in an age-appropriate and academically focused way with high school students.

Manna's picture
pre kindergarten teacher

I really liked the way you incorporated The Declaration of Independence and the US constitution to set up a classroom rules for the class. I think it was a productive way to do that so that the students will connect the text with their daily life and be better citizens. It also will help them to be more responsible citizens too.
Thanks for the idea

Kristina Hansen's picture

I love this idea of using this in your classroom as a rule based project. I wonder.... what happens if a rule needs amended? Have you considered taking that process through like a bill becoming a law, or amending a law would happen in congress?

IndiZ's picture

I think this is an interesting concept and may work for the classroom, but I am uncertain of the validity of a student bill of rights and how it relates to the real world. Rules are generally established prior to participation in a work setting. It is unlikely that you or I can walk into our principal's office and provide a list of the rules to which we will adhere. I am confident in knowing that there are certain areas of my job that I control within the established rules.

Are the students aware of the control they have in their daily lives within the rules set forth by the school administration? What is the function of this activity in relation to the real world? How does this activity prepare students for life beyond the classroom?

Atchley's picture

I often considered trying this method of rule development. I agree that when students have a say in what they learn, how they learn, and how the classroom atmosphere is, they tend to be more intrigued and interested in the class. They are more respectful of the rules set forth due to the fact that they helped develop them. I teach 8-12 grade and eight different classes in the area of Agriculture and Natural Resources. For the most part, my students choose to take my classes, which tends to increase their respect for the class. They are subjects that they want to learn about. We do many projects and activities, so things sometimes get a little carried away. I feel that if the students took part in developing the rules and procedures for the classroom and they are displayed, they will be more engaged and improve their own learning.

Peter Hook's picture
Peter Hook
Principal Designate - The Pioneer Leadership Academy

In the UK, I've worked with lots of schools on doing away with most rules and replacing them with 4 basic rights - All students have a right to learn; All adults have a right to do their job; Everybody has a right to dignity and respect and;Everybody has a right to feel and be safe and healthy. This means that students can see why even something as simple as not bringing the right equipment is important. Students of all ages can get this easily and once established we move on to using the UN Charter on the Rights of the Child as a driver across all aspects of school. When we do this from a young age is goes a long way towards developing responsible citizens

Natalie's picture
A pretty unusual highschool teacher and educator from Jerusalem

The link to the syllabus isn't working -- can you relink it?
Thanks :)

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager

Hi Natalie,

Thanks for the note. We'll look into finding where those resources went.

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager

The link is now working as it should. Thanks again for helping us spot the problem!

Harmeet Kaur's picture

On16.8.13 I conducted the activity Drafts the rules together which was purely taken by your site. It was fantastic. Children love to create rules for themselves. After the activity rules were written on big chart and were displayed in the class.

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