All rules have a purpose

The more your students understand the purpose behind the rules they’re given, the more likely they are to abide by them. In fact, one of the best ways to get the whole community to buy into the system of behavior you’re looking for is to have the entire community create rules together. Let the students help you decide what behaviors are acceptable and productive and which are distracting and dangerous.

Students hold each other accountable

In a microschool where there is a lot of self-directed learning, the students are in charge of their own classroom. They can make contracts between themselves that define the guidelines for borrowing a pair of headphones or checking out a book from the library. One of the most important contracts they’ll define is the way they engage in Socratic discussion.

At Acton Academy, they not only give the students the agency of creating the rules but also the task of keeping each other accountable to the rules. In an Acton school, each student begins a session with a few tickets called “Eagle Bucks.” Students earn Eagle Bucks by completing academic or community goals. However, if a student sees a classmate violating one of their contracts, he can request the classmate to turn in Eagle Buck, losing it for the rest of the session. At the end of the session, Eagle Bucks can be redeemed for various rewards, so students are motivated to accumulate them.

This is one example of a behavior system. Take from it what you think would work best for your students at your school. It’s highlighted here because this system does a great job of teaching the students to be thoughtful about their rules and accountable to each other for their actions.

Contract between all members of the community

There might be some fundamental rules that you’ll put in place and want to remain in place. In general, these rules will be focused on the goal of the community as a group. For example, you could make the rule that physical violence toward another person is never acceptable. Because these rules will be fundamental and likely more weighty than the daily expectations of how the classroom works, the teachers in the school are the ones who enforce these rules.

The consequences for these offenses can also be different from those for the students’ rules. A three strike system works well because it lets you objectively track if a behavior is improving or becoming more challenging. Depending on the offense, either a warning or a strike can be given. Set up clear expectations about what happens at each strike – a conversation with parents, suspension, etc. You can also define an amount of time after which the record resets back to zero strikes, so students have room to improve and start fresh.

Provide the system structure

While the students should have as much autonomy as possible in creating the rules for their learning environment, it helps to have a system in place to facilitate those conversations.

One way to achieve that goal is through weekly “town meetings.” These meetings of the whole school can be a great time to celebrate any successes that happened that week. At a town meeting, members of the community evaluate existing contracts to see how well they’re doing. If anyone has had a new topic they’d like to discuss at the town meeting in the last week and has informed the town council of that concern, the community can also consider creating new guidelines around that concern.

Again, following the theme of student agency, the students run the town meeting. In Acton’s model, students can sign up to be voted into a position on the town council, which lasts the length of a session, or 6 weeks. In addition to running the town meeting, students on the town council also help to run the classroom and help the guides and students communicate well.

Draft initial guidelines

Of course, it’ll take a little while to get all of these pieces set up. Draft an initial set of guidelines for the first week or so. Contracts can always be created or amended in town hall meetings as topics come up or new items are introduced to the learning environment.

It might seem a little unorthodox to leave so much of behavior management to the students themselves, but this system has huge payoffs in the long run. Students learn that they can shape their environment. They become more accountable for their behavior and for advocating for an environment that will help them best. Most of all, they learn strong interpersonal accountability and conflict resolution, rather than passing it off to an adult as an intermediary. That experience will be invaluable as they move on with their education, career, or any type of relationship in life.