Teacher Tom's First Book, I was inspired to try his way of introducing the rules this year. I tacked two big pieces of paper over our big chalkboard on the first day of school and waited for a couple of days and a few incidents to occur before we sat down in group conversation to talk about what rules are ("we are going to make an agreement") why we should have them ("so that we can all feel safe and happy here"). Then we opened up the discussion for everyone to pitch rules they could come up with and discussed together whether or not we should agree to them (and write them on our big paper) or not.
The first thing that was different about this approach was that I was transcribing the rules in their own words instead of positively phrasing their suggestions. I just wrote what they said, so on our board it read "no hitting" instead of "be gentle" which I confess felt strange to me and against my developmentally appropriate teacher talk.
It was a heated discussion. They had so many rules to suggest, many based on incidents where they had been wronged recently or far in past. "No scratching", "No pulling hair", "No biting", "No calling people 'baby'", I just transcribed and also added a small drawn icon that I felt would help them associate the picture with the rule since they can't all read yet.
We managed to fill one whole paper and moved onto the second one. The rules continue to emerge, it is not a static list. As incidents come up, we have the opportunity (with the open space on our rules list) to discuss whether something should be added. Recently, gun play came up in the playground and after talking about it decided: "No playing about shoot guns". "No bad words" came up recently as well. Although I sometimes suggest an idea, I try as best as I can not to give my opinion too strongly, since I believe that if the children author them, they are more likely to follow and respect the rules.
I've discovered the benefits of keeping this ongoing list. As we add new rules, we review all the old ones, and the discussion about what we will and won't allow in our community stays relevant and fresh. Many times in these weeks I've heard children tell their friends, "No hitting, we have a rule about that!" Although reminders of the rules are part of our daily life together, it is easier to remind friends coming from a place of community understanding "Remember, we agreed, no games about hitting or kicking!" It certainly makes me feel less like a cop. The rules don't feel like they are MY rules but OUR rules, and that we can all enforce and follow them equally.