This probably should have been my first teaching BLOG because it is so fundamental to life and learning. Early on, close to the first day of school I explained the rules. 5 year olds usually can't read so I made pictures of each of the four rules and mounted them on the board at the front of the room. I explained each rule thoroughly. 1. How to sit so as not to bother anyone or have your legs fall asleep. 2. Be quiet. ( Humorous note: This was a picture of a little boy saying shhh with his finger to his lips. Once when I asked if anyone knew what rule this picture represented a boy raised his hand and said, "Don't pick your nose?") 3. Raise your hand and wait for the teacher to call on you before talking. 4. No running
After the rules were thoroughly explained, I asked who was in charge of seeing that they follow the rules. In all my years of teaching no one got the answer right. Lots of hands went up and answers were, "The principle, You, Our Parents etc." I would shake my head and answer no to all of these suggestions. By now there was always someone who was about to burst because they were sure they had the right answer. ( I could always tell which kids went to Sunday School.) This child would answer with wide eyes and awe in their voice, "God." They were always surprised when I shook my head, no, again. It was a revelation when I told them that they were in charge of their arms and legs and mouths. They were in charge of seeing that the rules were followed.
For most kids it had never occurred to them that they were accountable for their own actions and had some control over them. I followed this up at the end of day by letting each student choose how to say good-by - with a hug, a handshake, or nothing. For some students it was liberating to square their shoulders and say, "Nothing." Thus began a student's journey towards learning and accountability.
What I learned: Learning won't happen until a student realizes that it is all up to themselves.