Several years back, one of my colleagues asked me to consider utilizing the term “Guidelines” instead of “Rules.” I immediately pushed back and explained that I wanted clarity. If structure is in place, I could then create a positive atmosphere.

She said, “Well, how would Guidelines be any different. Yes, it’s a less rigid word, but how would that change your ability to set behavioral standards?”

After a few minutes of conversation, I realized she had a point. What I didn’t realize is how that one change would impact many other aspects of my disciplining, and in turn, my classroom culture.

Our choice between using the word “Rule” and “Guideline” sets the tone for how we present our behavioral expectations and how we get our ensemble on board to honor them.

What’s the Difference Technically between a Rule and a Guideline?

A guideline is a non-specific rule or principle that provides direction to an action or behavior. A rule is a regulation or law.

How We Use Rules

A ruler sets the rules. A ruler governs by enforcing the rules. When someone does not follow a rule, they are handed a consequence. This concept is a top-down process.

How Guidelines Change the Process

A manager and/or team of people usually create guidelines. A managers and/or team usually trains employees to follow their guidelines. When a guideline is not adhered to, the goal is to re-direct and re-train the employees to more consistently follow the ever-important guidelines.

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Rules for Thought

When students are misbehaving in our classroom, how would you choose to frame this situation?

  1. That student is choosing to break a rule and deserves a consequence as a punishment.

  2. That student is not following the guideline and needs to be redirected. This re-direction is intended to improve their behavior.

Does punishing a student who breaks a rule fix their behavior? Is a punishment intended to fix a problem? The simple answer is usually NO.


On the other-hand, does re-directing a student who is behaving outside the established guidelines fix their behavior?

Is redirecting poor behavior intended to fix a problem? The simple answer is usually YES.

Behavioral Re-Direction Form (for students who don’t follow Guidelines)

How to Re-Direct Students Who are Exhibiting Poor Behavior – Ditch the Consequence

Instead of punishing a student who breaks the rules, we can instead create a way to re-direct students who are not observing our guidelines.

My goal was to come up with a simple Behavioral Re-Direction Form that students would fill out every time they fail to observe guidelines more than once in a given rehearsal. The first time they don’t observe a specific guideline they will receive a WARNING. The warning is intended to make them aware that their behavioral choice was not within the accepted classroom norm.

The second time in the same rehearsal, they are given the Behavioral Re-Direction Form, where they must check off the specific guidelines on the top of the form that they did not follow and then sign and date the bottom of the paper.

The third time in the same rehearsal, they receive the same form and must complete the prior two steps along with writing out each guideline that they did not follow. Next, they are asked to explain how they will go about making better behavioral choices for future classes.

The fourth time in the same rehearsal, they are asked to take the form home and get their parent’s signature on the bottom of the form. (Another approach would be collecting their form, scanning it in, and emailing it to the parents to sign. With this approach, we are contacting the parent).

The fifth time in the same rehearsal, they will fill out the form and it will be sent along with a referral to administration.

The sheet I created is adaptable to any situation, which is why I have it available as an editable Word Document.

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Other Ways to Re-Direct Poor Behavior – without punishing OURSELVES in the process

There are many ways to help students to improve their behavior. The best way is through positive reinforcement. If we, for example, want to eliminate the behavior of students calling out, we need to constantly thank students for raising their hand. We must be consistent and never acknowledge a student who calls out under any circumstance, other than by Re-Directing them.

In terms of a Re-Direction assignment, I’m a big proponent of ensuring we don’t give ourselves a punishment as a result of re-directing poor student behavior. Any reflective assignment that focuses specifically on their poor choice of behavior, creates awareness for the student, and gets them to think about their future choices, is a great assignment. Parent awareness followed by administrative awareness comes after a student has demonstrated a frequent inability to follow guidelines.

Appropriate Guidelines make all the difference

We must make sure we choose effective “Guidelines” for our Rehearsal.

Here are 5 Guidelines for choosing Guidelines:


1. Both the teacher and all students must truly understand WHY classroom/rehearsal guidelines exist.

We have guidelines to create a safe learning environment for all students.  Our guidelines should be specifically related to both their safety and the behaviors that lead to the most effective learning environment for all of our students. Before we explain each specific guideline to our students, we need to communicate the reason why we have guidelines in the first place.

Guidelines should exist in order to provide a safe (emotionally and physically), comfortable, and positive learning environment.

Guidelines should have little to do with OUR teaching and everything to do with THEIR learning.  

2. Limit the amount of rehearsal guidelines.

Every specific guideline needs to be ingrained in the minds of the students and locked into our brains as well. We need to post, teach, and constantly reinforce the guidelines as we begin each school year. With that said, too many guidelines makes it difficult for everyone to remember. I believe the most ideal number of guidelines is five. 

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3. Use the rehearsal guidelines only to address our most important behavioral concerns.

There are many issues that we may wish to address but we need to focus on what is MOST important for creating an ideal learning environment. We need to pose the following question to ourselves: What are the biggest issues that disrupt the safety and the learning environment of our students? If we think about what distractions frequently interrupt student learning, we will be able to pinpoint the most effective behaviors we wish to target.

Check out the following two blogs for more details:


4. Phrase Guidelines in a positive manner (Avoid negativity).

Guidelines are a major part of our rehearsal culture. If we are trying to create a positive learning environment, the guidelines need to be phrased in a way that is non-threatening. Words like “No, Stop, Don’t” can be avoided. There’s almost always a way to say the same thing in a more welcoming way.

5. Make every rehearsal guideline specific and enforceable.

Guidelines that are not specific become subjective and difficult to enforce. A lack of clarity leads to a lack of action on our part as we cannot make instant decisions on behavioral misconduct. In addition, lack of clarity can quickly lead to discussions, backtalk, and eye rolling. Many teachers think being too specific limits the scope of the guidelines. I believe we need to pinpoint the most specific issues; sometimes a specific action can broadly serve a myriad of different behaviors.

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Here’s an example:

Guideline: “Raise your hand and wait for permission before you speak” 

This one, specific guideline addresses:

1) students who call out an answer to our question

2) students who talk to one another

3) students who make wise-cracks

4) students who believe they are “helping” their neighbors by speaking one-on-one

There is absolutely no lack of clarity in this guideline: either we gave them permission to speak or we did not give them permission to speak.


I’ve compiled a list of effective guidelines in this free pdf download:

Last words

Useful Guidelines will be followed most of the time when properly reinforced. When they are not followed properly, we must redirect our students. Yes, it may seem still like a punishment to them, but it shouldn’t to us. We want them to meet our guidelines. We want to help re-direct student into following our guidelines more effectively, so that they can become better students.