Before the school year started this year, I decided to try something new in my classroom. Rather than have my rules already set (which I never do anyway) or brainstorm some rules with the students and then make those the rules, I decided to have my students build a ‘Can Do Wall.’

With about 150 students cycling through the lab every week (I only teach grades 3 and 5-7 in the iMac lab) the idea of each class having its own rules was a bit daunting.

However, the process proved to be fairly painless and successful.

Students worked in groups on the first day of class to come up with five can do’s—things that they can do in the lab. These ranged from “play games,” to “treat the computers nicely,” to “treat each other nicely.”  Groups recorded their can do’s and I collected them. I then compiled them into a Word document, which I projected on the wall (I don’t have a projector installed in the lab–yeah, I know). We then ceremoniously went down the list, with students voting for each can do (some which had to be re-worded). The can do’s with the top 5 number of votes became the ‘rules’ for that class.

I then gave 5 sentence strips to each class and a student with neat handwriting copied the can dos onto the sentence strips, which were then stapled, by class, to the wall.

Our 'Can Do Wall.' Created by students.

I refer to these statements constantly. The students have begun to refer to them, often telling their classmates, “we voted on them, guys, they’re OUR rules!”  Things aren’t perfect, but it’s pretty exciting to see the students take ownership over their own classroom ‘norms.’

One thing I’ve learned over the course of my teaching career is that I am not a dictatorial teacher. It’s not in my nature. I could never make students stand in a corner, and it feels unnatural to bribe students with rewards and threaten with punishments (unless, of course, the students agree on the consequence).

It’s amazing to me how little trust we adults put in children to build community and hold each other accountable. If we never give them the opportunity to do so, then we create a self-fulfilling prophecy.  It’s a messy process, but so far, totally worth it.