a student raises a hand in class

Establish classroom rules

teaching practice

For student year

Middle years

Helps students to

  • understand behavioural expectations
  • Helps teachers to

  • establish learning boundaries
  • anticipate and respond to behaviour
  • Summary

    Establishing and clearly communicating rules helps students understand classroom expectations. When students understand what is expected of their behaviour, the classroom becomes a productive working environment.  This practice will explain how to establish and reinforce class rules to support all students to understand what is expected when learning.

    How the practice works

    Watch the video to learn more about this practice.

    Duration: 2:13

    Preparing to teach

    Develop classroom rules

    • Identify 3–5 behavioural expectations and write them out as classroom rules. 
      • Experts advise having 3–5 rules that are measurable and observable. Limiting the number of rules helps students to remember the rules and not feel overwhelmed by restrictions.
    • Positively frame your expectations. 
      • Rules should be phrased positively so that they clarify what is expected of students rather than what students are not allowed to do, e.g. 'speak quietly' is positive, while 'no yelling' is negative; ‘always be on time to class’ is positive, while ‘don’t be late to class’ is negative.
    • Use student input where appropriate.
    • Ensure that classroom rules are consistent with broader school rules.
    • Identify the highest priority situations where you anticipate potential behavioural issues.

    It works better if the teacher:

    • asks students to contribute to the rules
    • displays the rules in the classroom
    • ensures the rules are written clearly and simply
    • regularly reviews the rules to help students to get it right before they do something wrong.

    It doesn't work if:

    • there are too many rules
    • rules are vague
    • rules are phrased negatively 
    • the teacher doesn’t explain the reasoning behind the rules
    • students feel no sense of ownership over their classroom rules.

    In the classroom

    1. Establish your classroom’s rules

    Some teachers like to brainstorm rules with students at the start of the school year, involving them in the process. Other teachers prefer to set the rules and then allow for some negotiation with students.

    Explain and discuss the rules with your students and provide specific, concrete examples. Discuss the reasoning behind your rules – this helps students to see that the rules are fair and allows them to take some ownership over them.

    Write rules that are:

    • simple
    • positive
    • specific
    • age-appropriate
    • most necessary.

    2. Provide direct instruction

    Directly instructing students in behavioural expectations and including concrete examples will help students to:

    • understand the rules
    • avoid confusion
    • remember the rules.

    3. Display the rules

    Display the classroom rules prominently using both visual and written material – students will be more likely to remember the rules. 

    Give students a handout of the rules to stick in their exercise book or folder so they have a consistent reminder.

    4. Refer to the rules

    Regularly refer to the rules to confirm that students are remembering them and adapting to them if needed. 

    When explaining a task, refer to the rules displayed in your classroom to highlight behavioural expectations that are particularly relevant to that task, e.g. during an individual work task, remind students of the rule about working quietly. 

    5. Use positive reinforcement when students follow the rules

    Provide positive reinforcement as soon as possible to students who meet or exceed expectations. Use specific praise or more elaborate forms of positive reinforcement, such as a token economy (see the ‘Respond constructively to student behaviour’ practice).

    6. Review the rules regularly

    Review the rules regularly. Do they still apply?

    Practice toolkit

    Practice implementation planner template

    We know that in the busyness of teaching it is not always easy to keep track of what is working and what is not. So, we have created this template for you to record and reflect on what you are doing to help you create a more inclusive classroom. The implementation planner contains:

    • Guidance around goal setting
    • Reflection section (What worked, didn’t work and what to change and next steps.)
    • Prompting questions

    Implementation planner template

    Implementation planner with examples

    Set your professional learning goal for:

    Establish classroom rules
    You can set and save your goal for inclusive practices using inclusionED. Saved goals will appear in your profile. Here you can access, refine and review your goal easily.

    Benefits of goal setting

    Setting, working towards, and reflecting on goals helps you grow professionally and improve your practice. You can access AITSL learning resources for teachers to learn more about:
    How to set goals
    The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership recommends using the SMART matrix to frame your goal setting.

    SMART goals refers to goals that are:
    • Specific
    • Measurable
    • Achievable
    • Relevant
    • Time-phased
    Read more about Improving teaching practices.


    Examples of classroom rules

    Further reading

    Related Practices

    This practice is from the core research project