This afternoon I spent a portion of a staff PD day discussing our school rules and potential changes for next year. We went over the usual suspect; gum chewing, cell phones and dress code. The discussion was heated as it usually is when it comes to things that people feel strongly on. Myself, I want kids to be able to use cell phones in class, but there are many that want them completely banned. Gum chewing is the same way in that I don’t care if kids chew it in my class. There is plenty of research indicating the positive effects of gum chewing on concentration and focus. Yet, because it is a school rule, I enforce it in my classroom and don’t allow it to be chewed.
After all this discussion, I headed home and started to think about the whole process and had a bit of an epiphany. None of these discussions or potential rule changes had to do with student behavior but rather on staff behavior. Let me explain…
The gum chewing conversation came about because many teachers were not enforcing the rule and some sit in front of their class chewing it themselves. Yes, I realize gum chewing is not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. However, if it is a school rule it must be enforced universally or it causes confusion among students and pits teachers against each other. I am labeled a “mean teacher” if I follow the rule we have in our handbook when others are not. So, this rule discussion was really not about kids chewing gum, but more about teacher’s enforcing a rule or not.
When looking at the cell phone policy, it is again more about the staff than the students. Anyone with half a brain knows the potential power of a cell phone in terms of a learning tool in a classroom. For resource strapped schools, these phones are mini-computers in kid’s hands. Why would we not want a kid to be able to pull out a phone and in seconds be connected and pulling information they need? Yet, this rule is not about that. It is about those staff members that are not willing to a) actively monitor their classrooms if students are using them and b) not willing to teach digital citizenship through their use. We are so afraid of a student doing something “bad” with a cell phone that we miss learning opportunities. Yes, kids could take pictures and post them on Facebook of themselves and friends doing silly things in the back of your class. I would argue that is a reflection of the teacher as much as the student.
On a total sidebar, I laugh at the number of teachers who are constantly on their cell phones during school hours texting, emailing, updating status and playing games right in front of the students. What message does that send the kids when the staff won’t even follow the rules set for the students?
Many of the other rules we discussed in the open forum had similar themes. More than once I heard, “it is too hard to enforce that rule.” I heard very few people mention what was in the best interest of the student’s and their learning environment. It may just be me, but I saw evidence that many of my school’s rules were a product of not keeping kids safe or protecting the learning environment. What I did see was rules being created because teachers were afraid to step up and enforce existing rules, or to step up and recognize learning opportunities and not punishment opportunities.
I wonder how many schools have rules established for the sake of the adults rather than for the sake of the kids.