Providing academic services to school-aged patients is an important part of the mental health treatment process. In addition to helping them continue to make academic progress, it also helps provide a sense of normalcy during a difficult time. In order to maintain a positive and effective environment, it is vital that educators create a system of rules and procedures to help students succeed.
Setting Up Classroom Rules
Classroom rules are the foundation for a functional and successful classroom in any setting. Rules vary from procedures as they determine what the classroom looks like, what type of behavior is acceptable and encouraged, and help students work towards a common goal. In other words, they set the tone. The Cornerstone for Teachers has a great analogy about how rules and procedures work together to accomplish goals, by comparing rules to the speed limit and procedures to all of the tasks drivers do to drive safely under that limit.
There are many ways to approach classroom rules, but most educators will agree that a few broad rules that encompass many different behaviors is one of the best ways to go. Rules can be broken down into easy to remember phrases or acronyms, making them simple to teach and to refer back to.
Here are a few sets of classroom rules (that work both in the general classroom and hospital classroom) to serve as an example:
- Respect 3 Ways:
- Respect Others (Behavior towards teacher and classmates)
- Respect Materials (Acting safely with tools in the classroom)
- Respect Self (Put forth full effort, Ask for help when needed)
- “The Big 3”
- Respect (For self, teachers, students, materials)
- Safety (Following procedures, with tools, with self)
- Effort (Focusing on work, asking for help, trying your best)
- Respect (Obviously a very common and necessary rule!)
- Everyone has the right to learn
- Ask for help when needed
- Don’t give up!
If possible, involve the students in creating the rules. This can be done on the first day of classes in a new year, or when new school-aged patients enter the hospital classroom. By involving students in the process, they will have a buy-in as to why they should comply with the rules. In the future, teachers can refer back to the rules and inform new students that these rules were created as a class with the input of former students to recognize the challenges of learning in a hospital classroom and to help everyone succeed to their fullest potential.
Other best practices for using classroom rules include posting them in the space (whether on a poster or written on a whiteboard), and establishing a natural system for consequences. In the hospital environment, utilizing a positive classroom management system, such as working towards a class goal or individual rewards, is much preferred over using negative consequences.
However educators should be prepared for what to do in matters of serious issues in the classroom, and should discuss with the team at the facility the necessary steps to take if any student poses a safety risk or requires additional behavior consequences.
Classroom Procedures: The Key to Success
Establishing classroom procedures early on saves time during the year, helps students focus on the real work, and reduces stress in the classroom.
Areas for classroom procedures include:
- What happens upon entering the classroom?
- How does seating work?
- How do you handle requests for materials (such as requesting a calculator, markers, etc.) during class?
- The process for distributing and collecting student work
- Class bathroom and dismissal procedures
For additional ideas, check out this list of 30 Classroom Procedures from Scholastic. While all may not be applicable in the hospital education environment, there are great examples of what to think about that might just spark a new idea or two!
Classroom Procedures in the Hospital Education Environment
It is extremely important to plan out what classroom rules and procedures are to be used in the hospital classroom. In these alternative class settings, procedures will likely be more limited, due to shortened class times (typically 1-2 hours a day). However they remain just as important as in the school setting.
Students find comfort in routine, and having established classroom procedures helps new school-aged patients integrate into that routine. Procedures should prioritize safety and academic work above all else in the hospital classroom.
- Any special apparel or procedures for teaching/ working with school-aged patients (such as masks, gowns, or not using shared materials);
- Procedures for distributing materials that may be allowed but require careful watch, including scissors, glue, and small arts & crafts items (individual units may have specific requirements);
- How behavioral outbursts might be handled (is the classroom cleared, does a student call for help, etc.) This is something to consider but may be kept to oneself until needed;
- The process for obtaining, distributing, and collecting student work (vital for tracking progress for the student’s home school district).
As mentioned in the list above, hospitals and treatment facilities will all have their own expectations for how the classroom should function, and what type of supplies are allowed. These topics should be included in the hospital orientation for new staff, including teachers and support staff who will be involved in the student-patients’ day.
By starting the year off right with established classroom rules and procedures, a hospital classroom will be well on its way to a respectful and productive classroom experience. Read more about the key components of academic programming during mental health treatment.