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One day, I walked into my classroom to discover I had less pencils than the day before. I hadn’t given any out, so this made no sense. Then I found a broken white-out tape dispenser hidden among my things. I sighed and put things in my desk that I didn’t want taken. A few days later, I saw that some pens in my desk had again came up missing. It felt that the line had been crossed, but when? Was the line crossed when things had been taken off of my desk, or when someone went into my desk? The answer? I hadn’t established a line to cross obviously I needed to create boundaries in my classroom!
Set up clear classroom expectations. We often assume that children know what they should and should not do, but if we really want to make sure our students know our rules, we must clearly show them the expectations in our rooms. Not only that, but the class should have a discussion about rules and boundaries. Include the students in the decision-making on the rules. Make sure you have a list of rules you’d like the class to follow before the discussion and guide them toward making appropriate decisions. I called them Classroom Expectations instead of rules. Kids hate rules, but expectations seem more manageable to most.
Make rules firm, but positive. When we set up classroom expectations, we phrased them all positively. For instance, instead of saying “Don’t talk while the teacher is talking,” I would put “Stay quiet during instruction.” You want to keep rules both positive and short (3-5 words maximum).One of your expectations should include something like, “Respect the Boundaries of Others” or “Only Touch Your Things” This expectation might be one of the most difficult ones for some of your students to follow. If, at home, they get access to whatever they want no matter where it’s at, they may not feel accustomed to boundaries. The most useful thing to say when someone violates the rule is, “Remember we need to respect boundaries?” You can use whatever phrasing you want, but make it a positive but firm reminder of class rules or expectations.
Remain firm in your expectations. Make sure you remain firm with the expectation that students stay out of your personal space once you set it up. While you might feel tempted to ask a student to get something off of your desk, it’s best to keep the boundaries firm. If you loosen up on your expectations even a little, you may confuse some students by asking someone to get something off of your desk. The “Only Touch My Desk With Permission” rule makes it more difficult to maintain firm boundaries because you get some students who say things like, “but I asked…” even if they didn’t. If you set the expectation that no one but you touches the desk and there’s no room for any confusion. Just be sure that whatever expectation you set, that you keep up with it all year. Providing that consistency for students makes it easier to manage the classroom.
Provide frequent reminders (but not always verbally). You might verbally remind students when necessary about your expectations, but providing visual reminders will prevent you from sounding like a broken record. Put reminders up near your desk to help with the more forgetful or impulsive students who need more frequent reminders. On my desk, I’ve put up a sign that reads, “This Area is for the Teacher Only,” and “Only the Teacher May Touch this Desk,” in order to keep expectations clearly listed in all areas. You may also try putting masking tape around the area on the floor that you consider your space and telling the students that only the teacher may step within that zone. If the school will allow it, keeping a visual reminder on the floor will definitely help any students that need visual cues.
Use the structure of the classroom to create boundaries. Make sure students know which area you expect group work in, etc., and use visual cues like masking tape, rolling carts, and other objects to show separation within the room. Cover computer screens with a cloth when they’re not in use, rearrange desks according to the activities of the day (together for group work or in rows for individual work), and use book shelves and chairs to show different areas of the room (like reading zones). If you have study carrels, put them around students when you expect them to complete work on their own. This also prevents any accidental cheating that may occur on test days.
Let students know that they can rely on you for help if they forgot their materials. When you’re missing a pencil or a pen, this usually means that a student forgot to bring one or lost theirs during a transition. Leave taking things from your desk out of the equation by making sure they know where to go for what they need. If they need to ask you, let them ask. You might also create a “lost a pencil, find a pencil” box. If a student leaves a pencil on the floor, which may happen frequently as students hurry to get to the next class, pick it up and wait to see if the student comes back for it. If not, put it in the box. Any student can borrow a pencil from the box and they all know that if they lost a pencil, they might find it there. If not, you may want to keep golf pencils or something else that will suffice for the day but that students may not want to keep (prompting them to bring pencils for themselves more often).
Making sure students know what to expect when they enter your room on day one and holding to it will help you out the most when trying to create boundaries. All of these other things will assist students in recognizing where boundaries exist and that you intend for them to uphold the expectations set at the beginning of the year.
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