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Ground rules are very important when you teach, because they lay down the main rules for the lesson. When someone comes to your lesson for the first time, if you lay down ground rules then there is a lot more understanding of the etiquette, expectation and how the lesson will continue. Some of these ground rules will be imposed and others will be negotiated between the group themselves. Some examples of ground rules that we can impose include the basic health and safety items, what to do in the event of a fire, what can and can’t be done on health and safety grounds, the smoking policy – that you must leave the building to smoke, maybe a designated area for smoking. Make sure mobile phones are on silent or vibrate, depending on the group that you have, but do bear in mind that maybe you need to be a little bit flexible and sometimes you will have someone in your group who will need to have their mobile phone on during the lesson. If this is the case then the ground rule can be that it’s on vibrate only.

Other ground rules that could be imposed include not talking over others, and allowing people to answer and when people are answering questions and discussions are being held then it keeps the session nice and calm and everyone can hear what everyone else says, that everyone has a voice. You must make sure that everyone is free to speak, that you are not going to experience any problems with people feeling as though they are being picked on. Maybe other imposed rules could include no eating or drinking during the sessions, or if you have a kettle in the room then not to switch on the kettle during the lesson.

Depending on where you are teaching there may be rules about tidying up. It may be the student’s responsibility to tidy up after the lesson, to wash their mugs up, clean or do any other duties. Another important ground rule would be around timings, depending on the subject that you are teaching and where you are teaching it then there may be schedules that you need to keep to. So you might want to point out at the very beginning of the lesson, that you start at 9.00am, so try and arrive a little bit earlier, tell them what they need to bring if it’s a multiple day course and what times the breaks are. The exact timings of these breaks may be negotiable, so this may be an area that can be negotiated within the group. For example, maybe when you are teaching you would like your lunch break to be 12.30-13.30 but the group would prefer 12-1. This is not normally a problem for most tutors, so tell people and give them the choice as it makes them feel part of the session more. Encourage what they want to be done and open up the ground rules for them.

Often when you are teaching there will be a series of PowerPoints and these should include pre-existing health and safety rules, but it’s also a good idea to use a flip chart or a board to write other ground rules down. These rules can stay visual all the time, especially the negotiated ones and if at some point you have issues with someone not following the rules then you can refer back to them, and if they can see this visually then it reminds them.

So can the rules be changed? Yes, they can be changed, obviously not the health and safety and imposed ones, but some of the others can be flexible. It may be that you are teaching a course over a number of days and the group are very tired, maybe they have had long drives that morning and rather than finishing at 5 you finish at 4, these are things that you can change as the lessons goes on. The whole time that you are teaching, review the ground rules and amend them as necessary, but talk to the class, make sure they are happy with how it is going.

If someone is breaking the ground rules, for example they’re on their mobile phone a lot, then you may need to take that person aside and have a quiet chat, don’t humiliate them in the lesson. Just take them to one side and go through the problem and hopefully they’ll take that on board. If you have someone who does not adhere to the ground rules then you may find that the rest of the group apply pressure, and it may be the case that the rest of the group will actually sort the problem out before it even comes to you. Peer pressure can solve a lot of the problems when it comes to breaking ground rules. If it gets to a stage where they are causing a problem, being disruptive to the class and not responding to your interventions, then you may need to take a bit more of a severe action. This could be, depending on the educational establishment, reporting them to somebody, or it may be as drastic as removing a person from the course. Removing someone is really a last resort and hopefully, during the course, you will be able to resolve these problems before they get to that stage. Always try and listen to your group and find out what any problems are when they’re in their infancy, rather than when they get too big.