Rules, Rights and Responsibilities

by KellyAnn Bonnell, MA

Intentionality in our planning is a sign of a quality learning environment. This begins with the three R’s of Classroom Management – Rules, Rights and Responsibilities. This is at the foundation of classroom citizenry that I have implemented in my classrooms and enrichment programs since 1991. No classroom community is successful without a clear understanding of how these three concepts fit together.

I would venture you would agree with me that a major part of public education is teaching children to follow rules in different settings. We have rules for classroom conduct, playground conduct, etc. In fact, I’d venture that if you asked your students what the rules are in a specific academic setting they will be able to provide a pretty good set of rules to guide their behavior. Schools do a really good job at ensuring safety and rules create the framework for that safety. At the start of a typical class or enrichment program, one of the first things we do is review the rules. A process that’s great for establishing expections but not necessarily so great at gaining buy in for the desired behaviors.


It’s simple. The children/youth had no say in the creation of those rules. Additionally, when you simple provide a  list of the rules, there’s not much of an opportunity to discuss why a rule exists.

The why is where the second “R” – rights – come into play.  The constitution of the United States protects our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Brown v. The Board of Education gave us the right to equal educational opportunities. The rules we create in educational settings exist to ensure that children’s rights are protected even if it from their own youthful decision making. The Make Your Day Citizenship and Discipline program makes a valiant attempt at addressing rights with their one rule philosophy. That one rule is “No one has the right to interfere with the learn or well being of others.” However it does not go far enough.

Bill Maher said, “We have a Bill of Rights. What we need is a Bill of Responsibilities.” With rights come responsibilities.

The third “R” in classroom management is responsibility.  Just as our education system is not good at remediation, it is not good at explaining the responsibilities that go hand in had with rights. We’re awesome at teaching students how to be individually responsible. We teach them to do their homework on time, to turn it in, to work in groups, etc. What we do not teach effectively are the responsibilities that come with citizenship. Not the broad citizenship of being American. The personal citizenship of being a good friend, neighbor, and community member.   Certainly, we teach that we all have a right to a harassment free learning environment. We even have rules that say that we have zero tolerance for bullying. However, it is only recently that we’ve begun to recognize that this is an important of the puzzle.

Why do we believe in this approach at Pop Goes the Classroom?

We want to create critical thinkers who go beyond the surface. If we expect kids to be able to critically evaluate popular culture and connect it to learning content, we should expect them to understand how rules, rights and responsibilities are connected.


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