Matt Gomez, from Plano, TX, is a “Teacher with the Habitudes.” In his kindergarten classroom, there is only one rule- “Be brave!” This “rule” applies to just about everything a young student has to face; from bullying to trying new things to missing mom.

Some may worry that a classroom would be chaotic with only one rule, but Mr. Gomez has high expectations for his class. He expects students to treat each other with respect, to clean up after themselves and to take ownership of class property. He feels these expectations are less restricting than rules, because he is able to handle each situation-and student-uniquely. We love how Mr. Gomez and his classroom embrace the habitudes!

Below, Mr. Gomez explains the rule, which is cross-posted on his blog.

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This year will be my third year with a one rule classroom. Be brave! That is our only “rule.” I wish I could put into words how powerful this rule has been in my class but really there is no way to for me to articulate it. Be brave is the perfect theme, motto or “rule” for any class. It helps with bullying, friendships, tying shoes, monkey bars, missing Mom, touching worms, tasting new food, etc. Be brave is exactly the type of attitude needed for young kids. Every day they are faced with challenges as they grow up into this big world. If the only thing I teach them is that they can “be brave,” I have succeeded.

Without rules my room must be a crazy mess, right? Well maybe sometimes but that isn’t due to the lack of rules. I have expectations in my class. I expect the kids to treat each other with respect. I expect them to carry the iPad correctly. I expect them to clean up their messes. I don’t have rules. What is the difference? Rules are restricting and demanding. In my mind, rules tell the class that I am in control of their behavior and my goal is they realize they are in control. Beyond that, I have learned that by removing the rules I have the freedom to handle every situation and every child in a unique way.

I also do not use any rewards or a behavior management system in my class. I have written about my reasoning and journey to remove rewards from the class (read here) and it really has been a journey. I started with sticker charts and a treasure box just like most teachers. I also have used many different forms of behavior charts. My friend Miss Night does a great job of articulating the reasons I avoid using these systems on her blog post “Too high a price: why I don’t do behaviour charts.” If you liked that post make sure and check out her follow-up post “Behavior management: relationships not systems.”  The big “light bulb” moment for me was when I realized that most behavior management systems are a form of control. The teacher is the one in control and I want my kids to learn to be in control. They learn by practicing and through mistakes not by being managed. I think Mis Night sums it up perfectly, “I have relationships, not systems.” I may have to work a little harder without stickers and treasure digs but in the end the relationships built and ability to customize how I handle every situation has led to a much healthier environment and happier classroom.

I might just add these words from Christopher Robin to our class this year: “you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think”