School Rules: The Positives and Negatives of Norms, Rules and Expectation in Sport

On the first day of school, one of my studnets walked in significantly late. I was speaking to the class when he handed me his tardy slip and kept walking toward an empty seat. Several of his friends laughed at this brazen move. I imagine this confident senior must have been embarrassed on some level. Who knows. I was so shocked by the interruption that I gave a response that surprised even me.
I said, "Did you know if you are late in NFL for a team meeting, you are fined? Interesting, huh? But for those of you who know the culture of the NFL, fines aren't uncommon. But let me get back to the point at hand; I would like to talk about that consequence: Is it fair? Is that a good idea? Fining players when they show up late?! We will talk about that in this class."


The class thought about it too. I returned to my original point and the bell rang but a few minutes later. As I packed up my backpack, I realized the 2021-2022 was well underway and with it, a new way to talk about classroom norms, expectations and rules.

Given that the entire student body hasn't been together since March 2019, I realized quickly how important it is to cover nuts and bolts of the course and what students are expected to have in class. Between posting the seating chart, taking roll and reviewing the syllabus, we haven't had much time to talk about Sports or Spirituality. Therefore, I figured why not integrate them into this discussion as well.

I posted my syllabus and asked students to review and sign it for homework. It includes a course description, outcomes, and our units of study. It lists the grade structure and procedures, grade scale, late work policy as well as expectations for academic integrity and attendance. Starting last year, we implemented a diversity statement. I hope students know how seriously I take the principle of respect for one another, for me and the course itself.

It was important for Coach Wooden that all his players had short hair.
Bill Walton challenged this!

After formally reviewing the information I want to be sure they are familiar with, I presented the following three prompts that address culture, climate and rules.

  1. If you are late for a meeting in the NFL you are fined.
  2. Many private clubs have dress codes and norms or rules for members. At the Olympic Club in San Francisco some of the rules are as follow: no hats inside a building, no jeans on the property (Lakeside), male members must wear a collared shirt when playing golf, men must tuck in their shirt, hats cannot be worn backwards, no cargo or yoga pants on the course or short skirts. It is the responsibility of members to know and follow the rules but not enforce them on one another. That is the job of the staff.
  3. John Wooden, the legendary coach at UCLA, had three rules for his players: 1. Be on time. 2. Never criticize a teammate and 3. No profanity. Not one word

I asked the class to determine what was positive and negative about each statement. I challenged them to think creatively and consider how these ideas relate to our school. I emphasized that the point of this exercise was not for them to share their opinion on the matter but rather to consider how these norms can affect a community for better or for worse.

I have always tried to offer personal examples when I talk about school rules. For example, when I share with my students that I enforce the dress code, I remind them that I too must follow one: female teachers are not allowed to wear sleeveless shirts. They are asked to wear a sweater over a tank top or any blouse with straps, etc. However, providing these examples that relate to the wide world of sports was much more interesting. For example, one student noted that the dress code at Olympic Club affects men more than women—many saw that as a new characteristic! They also loved reading the list of what else the NFL issues fines for. I've heard it called the No Fun League….is this why?

I hope my students will return to class with other examples of rules and norms as they apply to our school and the world at large. Stay tuned. It's exciting to be back.

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