Rules I Follow – Steven Herder

Rules I Follow

– Steven Herder

After some brilliant blog posts on Breaking Rules recently, it is tantalizingly timely (and great fun) to now consider the “Rules We Keep”. I’m excited to spend time writing about this topic, but even more psyched to see what everyone else comes up with!

1. The Golden Rule – I simply try to follow the Golden Rule whenever I walk into the classroom: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Many years ago, I remember talking one day with my colleague, pumpkin bunny Chris Mori, about how we each had made a very clear but somewhat unconscious decision to treat our teacher’s room (office for 6-8 English teachers) as our own sanctuary from the outside world. Whatever difficulties we were facing in our daily lives, we left them outside. We were committed to keeping the classroom and our office free from all of the complications of our private lives. We knew that we had to spend 40 hours a week in that space and so we decided to keep it a kind and loving space. Of course it was difficult sometimes, but having the commitment to stay positive and keep things simple, completely affected our approach on a daily basis. As a bonus, I think students benefited a great deal because they knew what to expect from us, and our consistent, optimistic approach to their studies.


2. The Connections Rule – I continually try to connect with students because I believe it can have a positive influence on their learning:

  • They try harder when they feel a connection to the subject, the teacher or classmates.
  • The more I connect and get to know them, the better I can understand them and tailor my approach to their specific needs.
  • The more emotionally connected I feel to a class, the more satisfaction I get from teaching them.
  • When I open up and share parts of my daily challenges as a teacher, they gain trust and begin to share as well.

The power of emotional connections has clearly been documented in a great number of fields. Here, for example, is a great little graph showing the difference between satisfied shoppers and emotionally connected shoppers.


3. The Expectations Rule – I always try to be clear, realistic and positive about my expectations for any group of learners, while at the same time trying to develop individualized expectations for as many students as appear to need a special set of expectations.  For some students, targets well beyond the class goals are appropriately challenging, while for others, just getting to class on time and having their study tools ready (notebook, text and pencil case) is an excellent expectation to begin with.

Of course, the main point is for students to know that you expect them to improve, and that you will do your part to help them succeed; now – how that manifests itself can be in any number of different ways, but if learners feel pressure from the teacher to perform well, and the teacher helps the learners to reach some form of success, then it becomes a win-win situation. Both the learner and the teacher can leave the class feeling good about themselves at the end of the course


4. The Riffing Rule – I wrote a full post on the idea of SLOW Moments. Check out this excerpt and read more if you’re interested:

These “spontaneous learning opportunity windows (SLOW)” are moments that I have grown to love and cherish. I define them as those serendipitous moments when everyone is suddenly focused on exactly the same thing. It may be triggered by a student’s comment, a joke, a mistaken answer, something from the textbook, or something the teacher has just said. At that moment, everyone’s brain has stopped and a small window has opened. If the teacher is ready, it is very easy at that moment to slide something through the window and

Finally, a rule that I usually keep to myself is that,

If I continue to try my best, it’ll all work out in the end.

If a lesson or an idea doesn’t work, I now know that I can make it better next time.

If I define and maintain my own basic principles of teaching, I will succeed.

As for the daily challenges and curves that come my way, I will just work them out day by day.

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Rules We Follow – Michael

Doing and Being: How Mike Rolls               Michael Griffin

As an enthusiastic rule finder, bender, breaker and scoffer it was interesting and hopefully useful for me to think about which rules I always try to follow. For other teachers reading this who are allergic to rules being imposed on them (like me), I must mention that these are not rules I am suggesting you follow but just sharing rules that I choose to follow for myself.

Be on time

I like to start class on time, every time. I think it is more efficient to make sure we all know when class is going to start and to do so. Starting on time one of the easiest things for teachers to control but is something that can be overlooked or forgotten. I feel the teacher starting on time is a good model for students and I don’t think we can expect students to be on time if we are not.

Be prepared

In this case, I don’t mean that I need to have mountains of handouts, all my teacher talk clearly written out, or a minute-by-minute breakdown of what I am hoping will be done in each moment of the class (though I have surely had all of these things at various times in the past). I simply mean I must have a few different ideas about different activities we might do in class while always keeping the overall goals and objectives of the course in mind. As much as I sometimes enjoy and feel comfortable “winging-it” I can’t imagine going to class without at least a few options and ideas.

Be flexible
Sometimes, regardless of how well-prepared we believe ourselves to be, we need to stray from the plan. At various times in my teaching career, I have pushed the plan or materials that I toiled over the night before too hard and have realized being stubborn about using the plan or materials is not productive for me or my students. It’s always important to keep in mind that my job is to teach the students not the plan or the material.

Be aware of students
It can sometimes be easy to forget about students as we focus on “covering” material. My personal rule is to always try to think about the students as I plan and teach especially in terms of abilities, personalities, needs, interests, and current mood and situation.

Be yourself

It is becoming more and more apparent to me how important being myself in class is to me. Part of this is because I have realized I am not so good at being anyone else and the other part is that students seem to respond to the “real me” better than any fake version of myself I might create. Being myself in this sense includes but is not limited to giving my real opinion (especially when asked), joking around, showing care for students’ lives outside of class, telling the truth, disclosing personal information when comfortable, and at times choosing not to disclose personal information.

Be positive
This is easier said than done sometimes but I think it is important for me to remember (especially on down days) how much I love my job and why I choose to do this kind of work. Thinking of this usually cheers me up, or at least helps me focus on the job at hand.

As I wrote this list I realized that a lot of my rules are things to be rather than things to do. Perhaps this shows that for me a lot of teaching is more about being than doing.

Rules We Follow – Malu

Malu’s One Rule – Malu Sciamarelli                    

I was reading a magazine last week, and an ad caught my eye: To break the rules, you must first master them. It got me thinking how true that was, but being busy, I simply forgot that as I moved into reading something related to work. Coincidentally, the following day when I was asked about rules in the classroom, that line came back to me and a myriad of new questions buzzed in my mind: Do I follow rules in my classroom or do I break them? Do I really need to master rules to break them? Lots of questions — but still no answers.

Then, curious about that ad and wanting to know about its underlying principles, I searched on the Internet and I found out it’s a way of thinking about how you learn a technique. It comes from Aikido. Alistair Cockburn


introduced it as a way of thinking about learning techniques and methodologies for software development. The main idea is that a person passes through three stages of gaining knowledge: Shu-Ha-Ri. I reflected this could be extended to stages in teaching development. So, how do I see this concept in my classroom?

Shu: In this beginning stage you follow the teachings of one master precisely. You remain faithful to rules without deviation. You learn how to make groups in a communicative classroom, for example, and stick to the method you were taught.

Ha: At this point you begin to branch out. You can make innovations, which means rules can be broken and/or discarded. As an example, you use different ways to correct students, mainly adaptations as your confidence grows.

Ri: Now you aren’t learning from other people, but from your own practice. You create your own approaches and adapt what you’ve learned to your own particular circumstances. In this phase, there are no rules, only creativity leading to where you act in accordance with what you judge to be the best.

Here you create completely new ways to practice a negotiation skill that you came up with yourself, not following a tried or tested formula, for instance.

I do believe that in order to get to this point, we need to learn skills and practices that develop us first. Only then can we break rules and explore.

I remember two cases in which I followed different routes. In the first, a group of teenagers had an oral test, and as it was a beautiful day they didn’t want to stay inside, but begged for the school garden. We are allowed to do some activities outside, but not tests. I decided to follow the school rules, making sure they all knew about my decision and all the reasons. They complained a lot at first, but at the end of the test, they all agreed it was one the best things we ever did. They were not only assessed, but also learned a lot from each other and we all had a great time together. That test developed into projects for several other classes – this time in the school garden.

In the second case, I was replacing a teacher and I had to follow her lesson plan. They had a very long listening that would take almost the whole class and leave no time for other activities. I then decided to change her whole lesson plan, shortening the listening and doing activities in which the students would benefit more. I deliberately broke the school rules. When I told the teacher what I had done and showed her the results, it led to a good peer collaboration.

In both cases all I had in mind was to do what I judged would benefit students best at that given moment. And the results showed I made the right decision. Following the rules in the first example didn’t make me feel restrictive and limiting, just as breaking the rules in the second one didn’t make me feel powerful or freer. In both cases, I just felt I made the right decision.

So, what rules do I follow in my classroom?

Only one: choosing what is the best for my students.

Rules We Follow – Barb

Barbara Hoskins SakamotoI’m not a terribly consistent rule follower, I’ve discovered. There are, however, two rules about teaching that I have been pretty good about keeping. They are:

1. Learn as much as possible about as many things as possible so that I have a large pool of resources to draw from in teaching.

2. Don’t let what I learn interfere with what I know is right for my students.

The first rule has helped me rationalize learning about any number of things — from trivia about the animal kingdom as a way of providing a context for learning English to technology tools as a way of teaching.

The second rule keeps me grounded. I try to stay current with research about teaching and learning, and I appreciate educators who conduct studies to evaluate how and why things work (and don’t work) in the classroom. There’s value in research. However, there’s also a risk in adopting or dropping something I do in class simply because it is or is not validated by research.

For example, the idea that teachers should incorporate techniques to reach different learning styles or multiple intelligences has been largely discredited in research studies. Not only is there no proof that teaching to different modalities is useful, there is evidence that it can be counter-productive. However, thinking in terms of learning styles is still a useful rubric for lesson planning, and getting teachers to see that they tend to teach in the way that they like to learn is a valuable step in encouraging them to experiment with different ways of presenting material. For many teachers, the idea that the same material can be taught in a variety of ways is new, and liberating. The idea that students process information in different ways resonates with teachers.

So, even though learning styles are “so last year” in research circles, I still use them as a way to make sure my lesson plan is multisensory, and  include them in teacher training because they are a useful way of looking at what happens in our classrooms.

Interestingly, cognitive scientists now suggest that rather than teaching in a way that suits our students, we should teach in the way that best matches our lesson content (e.g., learning to play soccer is probably best done by kicking a ball on a soccer field rather than by listening to someone talk about playing soccer). Learning a language involves multiple senses, so essentially we follow a different path to the same destination. We should teach in a multi-sensory way not because our students have learning style preferences but because it’s the approach that best suits teaching language.

Rewards are another example of me choosing to ignore what I’ve learned in favor of what is right for my students. A quick Google search shows many reasons why rewards are a bad idea — students get addicted, they won’t develop intrinsic motivation, and eventually the rewards stop working. However the majority of articles refer to teaching contexts very different from my own. I see students once a week, and English is simply one of many after school classes children participate in. The chance to choose a sticker means that homework is usually done (and shown and checked within minutes of entering the classroom door). Younger siblings get a sticker at the end of class if they’ve been able to follow class rules for the entire hour. There’s no penalty if homework doesn’t get done or younger siblings have an off day, but there is a small reward for compliance. Typically, students start forgetting about taking a sticker in about third grade, and are pretty autonomous homework-doers by the time they hit 4th grade.

Do I think all teachers should use learning styles as a rubric for planning lessons? Do I think all teachers should use rewards? No, of course not. What works with one of my classes may not even work with another of my classes, let alone another teacher’s class. Each group of students has its own dynamic, and requires a slightly different teaching style.

I think that teachers need to learn as much as possible about as many things as possible so that we can make informed choices about how to teach the students in our classrooms. The longer we teach, and the more we learn, the more confident we can become about making the choices we do, regardless of what research says is “right.” Ultimately, no one knows as much about our own students and their needs as we do.

If you’d like to do a bit of reading about learning styles and rewards, here are a few articles to get you started:

Don’t teach to learning styles and multiple intelligences []

Do Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic Learners Need Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic Instruction? []

The Risks of Rewards



Six Reasons Rewards Don’t Work


Rules We Follow – Vladka

Rules, Principles, and Change  – Vladimira Chalyova

A rule, law, or regulation is a prescribed guide for action. That could be the definition you can get from any dictionary. For me, a rule is something that you try to keep in mind as a line that shouldn’t be crossed  — unless it is unavoidable.

There are two types of rules: rules people create consciously and set for others to follow and rules we form as we grow, learn and become aware of the world we live in. These are the rules we follow subconsciously. Or can I say we follow such rules at all? Isn’t it more what we call the way of life? And are not such rules in fact the principles we form our own lives around?

As a teacher, often seen as a leader, a decision maker and the ruler,I feel I have a responsibility and maybe even an authority over the space that is there in the learning environment and that can help learners create their own rules and principles —  not to control the situation and people. In this light, I want to share a rule that even though it was formed by someone else and was just passed on to me several years ago, I did internalize immediately. It hung on the wall of my office throughout all the years I spent at my first school and when I was leaving I intentionally left it on the wall to pass on the wisdom to a newcomer.

” Thou shall not steal the time of them that follow thee.”

There was, has been, and always will be something appealing about it. Now, let me share how that single rule changed for me over time, yet still suits me now as a teacher.

At first, I saw in it the time I am with my students and during which I should give them as much information, knowledge and advice as possible – to fill the lesson full!

Later on, when my own role in the class had changed, it started to resonate with something a bit different. The more I see students, the people who found the time to come, share and learn together, the less is that time about me in there. It has transformed to the time that’s their and for them to express themselves, to find their own ways and to form their own rules, principles and beliefs they feel content about and happy to apply outside the classroom as well.

I do not want to steal that time anymore.

Whether we’re talking about rules from the first or the second group of rules, over time we may find ourselves questioning them and may find them unsuitable for the present situation. That is the moment we can be called rule-breakers, inconsiderate or even insane.  That is the moment we look for change and a way to overcome a present situation that no longer allows us to grow. That’s when we change.

Some may have more of such moments in their lives, and some just a few. And the courage to deal with such moments may vary from person to person and time to time. Whatever the case may be for you, fear not.  Such moments help us form the new principles that we later go on to live through and abide by. They help us find our true path.