COVID-19 · slice of life

This, Not That: Virtual School Rules

We’ve decided to keep our kids home from school until there’s a vaccine. While I’d like to tell you it was a complicated decision, it really wasn’t. All of my consulting work will be remote until there’s a vaccine. As much as I dislike remote learning for young children, I am worried about the spread of COVID-19 in preschool and elementary school. So, Isabelle will be engaged with synchronous and asynchronous learning through her elementary school. As for Ari, he will have ME as his preschool teacher. As much as I am confident in my ability to prepare him academically for Kindergarten, I know I won’t be able to replicate the socialization he would have gotten by going to in-person preschool. (Thankfully, this would have only been his first year of two years of preschool.)

But this post isn’t about my kids. Rather, it’s about VIRTUAL SCHOOL RULES I have seen popping up on social media. When you click on these illustrated rule sheets, you’re often taken to a TPT page where you can download these ready-to-go classroom rules for your remote classroom.

Listen, I’m a literacy consultant, not a classroom teacher. But, I stopped writing classroom rules for my students in 2006 after taking a week-long Responsive Classroom teaching. Th2 2006-07 academic year was the best of my teaching life so I never looked back and created rules for my students in subsequent years. If I were teaching remotely right now, there’s no way I would be creating rules for a virtual classroom anymore than I’d be creating them for in-person instruction.

Rather than admonish well-intentioned teachers, I want to offer a do THIS, NOT THAT for some of the most frequent rules I’ve seen on these cutified sheets.

THIS: Eat and drink responsibly.

NOT THAT: No eating or drinking during class.

I’ve heard some school districts are telling teachers its their responsibility to make sure district-purchased technology isn’t ruined with food or drink spills. Quite frankly, this is impossible to enforce from afar. Instead, teachers can facilitate a discussion on ways to care for district-purchsed tech rather than making a no eating or drinking rule. Students can be taught proper etiquette for eating and drinking during synchronous learning if they must eat during classtime. (For instance, students who are crunching carrots can mute their microphone.)

Personal Point: I don’t allow my daughter to eat at the desk in her bedroom, which is where she typically works. However, she drinks water all day from a closed water bottle. She understands how to do this responsibly. In other words, it’s a parent/caregiver decision to allow eating or drinking during classtime.

THIS: Find places where you can do your best work.

NOT THAT: Sit in one spot during class.

Some kids have the luxury of having multiple work spaces, while others have a solitary seat around a kitchen table. The thing is, people need to move around when they work. Therefore, kids should identify a couple of spots where they can work comfortably and concentrate during classtime. If they need to move around their home, they can move to their other spot. Just like children might have different focus spots for different subject areas in an elementary classroom, they need not stay in the same place for an entire virtual school day.

Personal Point: Back in the spring, I was recovering from foot surgery when Isabelle was home from school. She spent a good deal of her remote learning time on my husband’s side of the bed since I had to keep my foot elevated for six weeks and didn’t want to monitor her home learning from down the hall. When necessary, Isabelle moved to the desk in her bedroom. She knew when she needed a venue change. It was up to her.

THIS: Turn your video on if you’re comfortable.

NOT THAT: Turn on your video.

While seeing one another helps to build community — especially when teachers and students are new to each other — not every child will want to showcase their home for their peers and teachers to see. Quite frankly, if kids are showing up and contributing with their voice, is it necessary for them to be seen?

Personal Point: I was using Zoom to meet with my publisher prior to the global pandemic. There are many times when various staff members are working remotely and don’t wish to have their camera turned on. Having the camera off is an acceptable part of my publisher’s workplace culture. If adults aren’t expected to have their cameras turned on all of the time, why should kids?

THIS: Please wear a shirt.

NOT THAT: Follow the dress code/wear your uniform.

I think it’s important for kids to wear clothes, but as long as they are wearing a shirt, I think they’re fine. Seriously. If a student is attending class and participating, then it doesn’t matter if they’re wearing a flannel PJ shirt or a collared shirt.

We are in the middle of a global pandemic. Not everyone access to a washer and dryer in their home. If students are showing up, then does it matter if they’re wearing a hoodie, fleece pajamas, or a dress? (See previous section about allowing kids to turn on the camera when they’re comfortable.)

Personal Point: As a parent, my children and I got dressed every weekday of the stay-at-home order. Why? She thrives on structure. (Also, I went to a school school with a strict dress code so having Isabelle get dressed for school felt important to me. Again, as a parent, this is my decision. This wasn’t a school decision.) Several of Isabelle’s classmates showed up in pajamas — and were welcomed — for online class meetings during the stay-at-home order. This is exactly how it should be.


So, please, let’s refrain from setting rules for kids and from printing off cutesy virtual classroom rules posters, even if they’re available for a free download. Let’s give kids and families the respect they deserve and remember, as Aliza Werner said on Twitter yesterday, “You are a guest in their space.”

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34 thoughts on “This, Not That: Virtual School Rules

  1. I love this Stacey! There are good intentions behind some of these rules and I really like how you’ve put the ownership for making g good, considerate decisions back onto individual students and their families. My children and I will be returning to class full time. We’ve had so few cases here (zero in 4 weeks!) that I feel fine about this. However I’m sure there is a good possibility we’ll be back online at some point. I’m going to keep your “this…not that” in mind!

  2. Bravo, Stacey! Enforcing classroom seems not to be as important as some are making it. I personally have not seen the cutesy virtual classroom rules but if I had I may not have bothered with them. Virtual learning is difficult enough so why create an environment that is rigid. We want to engage children in learning not be the enforcers. I am still unsure what a return to the classroom will bring here on Long Island. We have been so concerned with the idea of keeping the numbers down yet there are those who still party on and create havoc. Who knows what happens in each child’s home. We can only hope that this semester will not bring heartaches to classrooms.

  3. Positive expectations always sound better than strict rules. Discussing and making agreements is even better than that. All of it is much more complicated than in the same classroom, yet the principle “considering needs of the learners” is the same.
    You have an interesting school year ahead. You have lot of knowledge, wisdom and experience to make this a positive learning journey for all of you. Wishing you resilience, creativity and fun along the way.

    1. Thanks for your vote of confidence, Terje. I’m not nervous about Iz being home since I used to teach fourth grade. Ari’s education feels more overwhelming since I have ZERO preschool teaching experience.

  4. This is such an excellent post, Stacey– I hope it gets tweeted far and wide. Attempting to impose authoritarian rule, while it seems to be the political flavor of the day, certainly has no place in school right now. We should be focusing on, as you allude to here, equity and respect for children and their family situations. This is obviously an extension of the way you’ve been advising teachers for a long time, which is a testament to you and your kind approach to kids. Love it!

  5. Great post. This is how our school sets expectations (also with student input) but this is a needed reminder that continuing to take this important approach not only works better, but will also maintain a bit more normalcy.

  6. Thanks for this. My team and I had lots of discussions about how frustrated we felt about kids not turning on their video. The more I read, the more I understand how important it is that we state things in a positive manner and give them the choice.

  7. Where can you put this so more teachers see it? We definitely need this reminder of responsive classroom principles. Lucy Caulkins spoke of our maintaining our values during this time of change, yet it is so tempting to fall into old, bad habits. Thank you so much for this reminder to put rules as positives and give students respect. I would also add, let rules come from the students. I wonder what they will think of, that we haven’t?

  8. Thank you for sharing these thoughts. My heart hurts when I read some of the things teachers are unwittingly (I hope) putting together for their virtual environments. I appreciate your positivity!

  9. I wholeheartedly agree and applaud your words of wisdom here regarding school rules – or, rather, the relegation/banishment of them. I cannot believe some I’ve seen out there (trying to tally time on-camera?? Really??) To me this is one of the biggest places where education derails: Prizing compliance over actual learning. Much precious time is wasted on it in the classroom at the expense of student immersion, creativity, and contribution. Trying to enforce virtual rules is virtually fruitless … Your appeal to “refrain” from such is well-made and your personal stories perfectly illustrate the “why.” Thank you for your strong, clear, compassionate voice, Stacey!

  10. Love this! It is the perfect antidote to some of the things I’ve seen popping up. Your presentation is positive and your personal anecdotes make the whole thing accessible. School is supposed to be about learning, not compliance, and this post demonstrates that perfectly. (As a side note, I almost always have my students come up with their own classroom expectations in high school. Lately, we’ve often ended up with one word: respect. (I’m starting to wonder if they’re passing this down.) We talk about how that has different meanings for different people, cultures, etc. but it is still our go-to for any moment when classroom norms feel out of whack.)

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