Back to School Rules

One day last year I arrived at school a little early to read with second graders. I slipped into the classroom quietly and sat on the edge of a desk, appreciating the opportunity to eavesdrop on the group who were gathered around the teacher considering guidelines for a project they were about to begin. One of the girls slipped away from the group to whisper in my ear. “Mr. Boomsma, you’re not supposed to sit on the desks.”

I thanked her profusely and immediately changed my seating arrangement. I’m always a little embarassed when I unintentionally break a classroom rule but I enjoy how the kids try to help me stay out of trouble.

Rules are good things. I recently happened to read “Ten Rules for Students, Teachers, and Life.” These rules have a somewhat uncertain beginning that appears to involve John Cage, Sister Corita Kent, and may even Bertram Russell. We do know that Sister Kent used them in for an art class she taught and they became the official art department rules for the college of LA’s Immaculate Heart Convent–her alma mater.  Since I know how difficult it can be to know and remember lots of rules, let me share just three.

  1. The duty of a student is to pull everything out of your teacher and your fellow students.
  2. The duty of a teacher is to pull everything out of your students.
  3. Nothing is a mistake. There is no win and no fail. There is only make.

Imagine how much our classrooms and schools could change if we could follow them. We perhaps need to expound a bit on rule number three. Here we are talking about the learning environment and process. The ability to make mistakes is an important part of learning and we need to learn and allow that ability. The rule is, I think, leading us to the understanding that a mistake doesn’t equal a failure.

Of course I’m not proposing we allow students (or adults) to sit on desks. But a good place to start education in any form is to define the role of the teacher and students–and the fundamental way we will “make” learning.

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