ground rules

What are ground rules?

They are the minimum necessary conditions for getting learning work done in the class.

They may include:

* Arriving on time
* Respecting health and safety regulations (You may well be in breach of your contract and legally liable for accidents if you do not cover these, including explaining the detail.)

* Switching off mobile ‘phones

* Not interrupting fellow-students

* Not moving to do something requested until given an explicit cue (rather than “order”), such as “Go!”

* Respecting other people’s contributions

* Only having one conversation at a time in the class.

There is no definitive list for all classes, but it is a useful exercise to think through what you want on the list before you start the class: if you don’t know what you want, how will the students know?
Do Ground Rules work?

No. They are necessary but not sufficient.

* Ethically, it is not fair to castigate people for violating rules unless they know and understand them. Currently, the buzz-word is “transparency”.

* Pragmatically, they are hostages to fortune. They state what students have to do to incur your wrath: if someone is determined to be disruptive and to get attention in that way, it is better if they know what to do (which may be very minor if you are very “strict”), rather than have to experiment to find out what will rattle your cage.
* On the other hand, they can be experienced as patronising: “Who is this guy who thinks we have to be told how to behave in a class?” See the point about “sharing” below. So don’t just lay down the law.

You can use a spirit of honest enquiry to clarify them through questions: “Is there anyone who expects that they may have difficulty getting here for the official start-time?” “Do any of you need to keep your mobiles on, for family or ‘on-call’ reasons? OK, could you set them up for ‘silent ring’, please?”

What are the Ground Rules about Ground Rules?

These are the “meta-ground rules”!

* Never neglect them. You may have a class of stroppy and unmotivated adolescents, or a small group of keen senior citizens: they can all waste a lot of time trying to find out what these rules are if you don’t help to clarify them.
* I said, “help to clarify them”, not “impose” them. They only really