Establishing Discussion Rules

Establishing discussion rules right from the start provides a solid foundation for every other practice and technique described in this handbook. Discussion rules are also known as classroom norms, codes of conduct, and guidelines or agreements for civil discourse; these terms are used more or less interchangeably throughout our conversations. Whatever we choose to call them, many professors develop them on their own, placing them in their syllabus or on a handout they give to students early in the term. But our experience suggests that it is more effective to engage students in creating their own classroom rules.

At the beginning of each intensive, we had our faculty participants develop the code they wished to follow for engaging in civil discourse throughout the week. Similarly, in the classroom, a Code of Conduct exercise reminds students of what they expect from themselves and each other. It can serve as an ice-breaker, a trust builder, and a reminder in case a behavior later becomes a problem.

Of all the techniques we introduced in our faculty intensive, this one was the most frequently applied. Most of our participants tried it out at least once; many of them made it a routine part of beginning their classes.