are Ground Rules?

Ground Rules are
boundaries set for the comfort and safety of all students, in order to optimise
the environment in which they learn.  I
often get asked “Really, we are all adults do we really need Rules” and my
answer is an emphatic ‘Yes.’  Let me give
you an example of why.

I had a student who came
to class with particular political views regarding immigration in the UK and was
voicing these rather loudly, to the detriment of two polish students also in
the class.  I immediately stopped the
class and sent the students for a break, speaking to the student who had been
voicing her views.  I explained that she
signed up to the ground rules and that her behaviour was not acceptable.  She apologised and when the class came back
she apologised to her peers as well. 

This is a classic
example of when Ground Rules are so important in giving you the teacher a
strong position from which to stop inappropriate behaviour in class. 

Ground Rules are
normally set at the beginning of a course, however this doesn’t mean you can’t
go back to them during the course and update them, amend or even disregard on
or two of them if they become obsolete.

How should Ground Rules be set in your class?

There are three main
ways to set ground rules in class, one is that the teacher sets them, the
second is that they are set purely by the students or as I prefer to do, some set
by you the teacher and some set by the students.  

If as in the first case
you set them, the students may not buy into them and disregard them.  By letting the students set them, you are
unable to put forward anything that you know with experience needs to be in
their ie mobile phones being switched to silent. 

The best way to set
ground rules is by agreeing a balance between what the students feel needs to
be in them and what you do.  As a
teacher, one of the main rules to put forward is anything to ensure health and
safety, for example no drinks near computers. 
I also like phones switched to silent or vibrate so that if a student
has to take an urgent call they can quietly leave the room to do so.

How can we make sure students abide by the rules?

I ask students to think
of a course they have been on lately, and what little annoyances they had, or
concerns re the running of the class. 
Students normally come up with phones being a problem, people talking
over each other, or someone eating a bag of crisps.  We have a discussion in class and agree the
Ground Rules.  I capture all these on a
flip chart and ask the students then to sign it with their initials so that
they are showing they agree to it.  I
then hang this on the wall during class so it is clear to be seen.  Sometimes, I photocopy the page and give a
copy of the ground rules to each student to put in their files.

If a situation arises, I
refer to the ground rules, explaining that they signed up to them.  I find that the students themselves point
this out to their peers, and I don’t need to interfere.  I constantly refer to the rules in my class
in a non-threatening almost humourous way so that they are not forgotten and
standards are kept. 

If a student constantly
disregards the rules, I take them to one side and explain that they have broken
a rule and that if the student is not prepared to change their ways, I would
ask them to leave the class.

Be firm and remember to
lead by example.

What must be considered when setting them?

When considering ground rules,
it is imperative to make sure they are agreed by all students in the
class.  This is to make sure that
everyone has a voice and that students take ownership of the rules and know
what is and what is not acceptable behaviour.

Language needs to be
appropriate and inclusive with no sexist or stereotypical remarks, and students
should not feel harassed into agreeing them until they are happy.

The Ground Rules need to
reflect the diversity of the group, eg, the gender, the age, religion and other
strands of the Equality Act 2010.

10 Ground Rules you might put in place in
your class:

Ground Rules

  1. Keep mobile ‘phones on silent or vibrate
    and leave the room quietly to use the ‘phone.
  2. No texting, leave the room quietly to use
    the ‘phone
  3. No question is a silly one
  4. What is said in the group stays in the
    group to respect confidentiality
  5. Respect everyone’s views and opinions
  6. Don’t talk over another person that is
  7. No eating in class only at breaks unless
    for medical reasons
  8. Show respect for each other’s views
  9. Be punctual
  10. Let the teacher know if you are going to
    be absent