Your Students Hate the School Rules. Use This Instead.
Teachers, let's face it. Our kids hate the rules.
In fact, I would put money on it, YOU probably hate some of the rules that good ol' society forces us to follow.
But we shove it down our students' throats and wonder why they kick off...
Guys, there is a better way.
In the first of this 3-part series, you will learn:
1) What is a 'Social Contract' & why you desperately need it in your classrooms.
2) Why the School Rules are not enough to make your students listen to you.
And most importantly,
3) Why setting a 'Social Contract' is a powerful way to show your classroom leadership skills and make rules your students WANT to follow.
Do you like the sound of that? Read on.
What is a Social Contract?
When you work with NEET students, there is something that you learn very quickly: dictating the school rules will not work with them.
If you have students that have been kicked out of mainstream schools and have no interest in Education, challenging them to follow the rules is like asking Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson out for a fight. It won't end well.
So after many, many trials and spectacular errors, I came up with the 'Social Contract.'
According to the Cambridge Online Dictionary, a Social Contract is, “an agreement among the members of a society or between a society and its rulers about the rights and duties of each1.”
This isn’t merely setting Ground Rules; you are entering an agreement with your students on how you are going to work together. You are establishing your authority and your Emotional Intelligence by showing that you value your students’ input.
Some of you are thinking “Why can’t I just get the school/institution’s rules and put them on the board?” Good question, let’s go through the reasons why.
1) The School Rules are Too Broad
I live in London, England which and is a part of the United Kingdom (UK). The UK have many wonderful laws like not killing your neighbours and stealing other people’s cars.
But over the several thousand years of our rich history, we have several laws that are quite strange and they still apply today. Don’t believe me? In 2016, UK based newspaper The Independent made a list of strange laws that still apply including:
It is an offence to be drunk and in charge of cattle in England and Wales
It is illegal to jump the queue in the Tube ticket hall
It is an offence to beat or shake any carpet, rug, or mat (except door mats before 8am) in a thoroughfare in the Metropolitan Police District
It is illegal to handle a salmon in suspicious circumstances
It is illegal to be drunk in the pub2
I have broken at least three out of five of those rules (how could you handle a salmon under suspicious circumstances?!?)
The reasons why they may look ridiculous is because a) they are not relevant and b) we cannot understand the context in which these laws were devised and why they would they be enforced.
I used an extreme example and I not saying that your school/college’s rules are irrelevant. But what I am saying is that you can tailor them to your students, subject or your setting allowing you to cater to their particular needs.
Some of you may be saying “Listen, behaviour is up to the school and is way above my pay-grade. My job is to teach and that’s it.” Well, I’m sorry to burst your bubble but that is about as true as Arsenal winning the Champions League.
No matter your thoughts on your institution’s behaviour policy, behaviour is YOUR responsibility and something happens in YOUR class. Take responsibility and look at ways that you can make life better for your students.
Great teachers make it their business to understand their learners' need and within their power cater to them. If you can tailor an agreement that suits the needs of your classroom, this will stop disruption drastically.
2) The School Rules are Inflexible
Your school’s rules were developed to be in line with the Government’s Education Teaching Standards. Of course, we must hold ourselves to the highest professional requirements. As teachers, we have a duty to make sure that we comply.
But for many of our students, the rules were imposed upon them. And no matter how sensible and logical the rules are, no one likes to be imposed upon.
The Social Contract gives your students a unique opportunity: the chance to have a say in how the classroom is run and feel that they are being listened to. This is powerful as you show that their feelings matter and if they feel involved, they are more likely to follow the contract.
For many of us, our students are Generation Z - a generation of young people that have grown up post-Internet & post- social media. This generation of young people, question more and are used to their voices being heard, whether we like it or not.
If you show your students that you are willing to listen and engage with them, you have already got half-way there.
3) The School Rules relies on compliance. The Social Contract encourages cooperation and engagement.
Whether you are teaching nervous nine olds in year Five or rebellious seventeen-year-olds in Year Twelve, over the years I have heard the same complaint — “Why do we have to follow the rules when the teachers break them all the time?”
The Social Contract should be upheld by EVERYONE in the class. The Social Contract is a two-way street. The Social Contract not only applies to our students but it applies to us as well.
If you have a “no mobile phone” policy in the classroom and you sit there looking at your Snapchat story, then you completely undermine what you striving to achieve. Try not to be a hypocrite. To use the great David Cameron quote “We are all in this together” and you will mean it.
But let me address something here and now. There will be some of you that will say “this is all BS, the students should follow the rules and that is that. This social contract is another initiative that takes power away from teachers.”
I would say that this is a very valid argument and I am not saying that my way is absolute divine truth. But your answer rests on one assumption: that your students believe in the rules and can fully understand the importance to them.
When I was the NEETs Coordinator, one phrase that became my mantra was “never assume.” I have taught students who have never been taught basic manners and I have even taught students that at sixteen years of age could not spell their own names and didn’t have any learning difficulties.
Customs and values change all the time. I don’t know where you are teaching but here in London, we boast one of the most diverse communities in the UK, I have had thirty students in one class represent up to twenty different nations. Each student brings with them their own social norms, cultures, religions, family dynamics and values into the classroom.
The Social Contract allows you to create a set of standards that you can all stand behind, no matter what background or position you have. The Rules in of themselves won’t be enough.
That's the end of part 1 - Come back next week where I walk you step-by-step to create your own Social Contract. Wanna make sure you get the blog as soon as it comes out?
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Karl from actionheroteacher.com
1. Cambridge Dictionary. 2018. Social Contract. [ONLINE] Available at: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/social-contract.
2. Harry Cockburn. 2018. The UK’s strangest laws that are still enforced. The Guardian [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/uk-strangest-weird-laws-enforced-christopher-sargeant-sturgeon-armour-a7232586.html.