Creating and Implementing a Code of Conduct

A code of conduct is a set of principles used to make decisions within a group.


Teachers who use a code of conduct believe it strengthens behaviors as students consider how their behavior choices are or are not in alignment with the code. They believe students will question their behavioral decisions and seek guidance when making complicated decisions. Guidance from the code of conduct and from other people. It is by making decisions and communicating how and why decisions are made students will learn to make better choices.

However, we must realize that if we want those choices to be ethical, then the code must specify ethical conduct. For most of us these seem to go together, but me must be aware the use a code and living an ethical life do not have to be the same thing. Hence we must be aware that students must have opportunities to maintain and or develop caring ethical behavior along with how to make decisions based on a code of conduct.

While the discussion here includes ethics it does not discuss the development of ethical behavior. See for example Child Development Project (CDP) and Kohlberg's theory of moral development.

One big advantage of a code of conduct over a rules-based system is students are expected to do do what is fair and ethical not slip through loop holes or elect inaction with the hope that others might intervene on your behalf to rescue you or others. It removes the excuse that the rule didn't say... or reliance on enforcement.

A Code of Conduct

Join us in learning. I will focus on learning and contributing to other's learning. I will be respectful to myself, others, and our property.

Step One: Considerations for a code of conduct

Decide who will write the code of conduct. You as the teacher, a group of teachers, each student or group of students, or other combination. Consider the inclusion of:

Think ahead for when the code of conduct is put into practice how the following questions might be answered:

And make sure you have these conditions covered:

If you decide to write your classroom code to present to your students, skip to presenting the code.

Step Two: Collaborating to write a code

Step Three: Present the Code and Give it a Trial Run

Print and display the code. The finalized code can be printed on small cards and given to each student as they enter the room or be sitting on their desk as they arrive. Or it could be displayed on a poster or bulletin board. If the code was created by a group, then the group can decide how and who should be responsible for presenting the code of conduct.

Have students read the code of conduct and ask if they have any questions.

If students haven't already identified situations they would like clarified, ask them to identify situations they are curious about.

Test each situation to see if the code suggests how a person might decide and if they believe those decisions, based on the code, are appropriate and acceptable for them. For example:

When students feel the code will protect them from harm or any wrong doing, then they usually ask what happens if students don't follow the code?

Step Four: What happens if someone violates the code?

Two initial considers for a violation is who is going to handle it and how.

Who, there are three possibilities: 1. teacher decides, 2. teacher negotiates with student or students, and 3. class as negotiator with student or students and the teacher is an advisor with veto power.

How, is the process that leads to what should be done, or consequences. Two possibilities would be one, to use a conversation to assist behavior change and two, to use procedure for conflict resolution. Results from either process would probably suggest interventions and consequences, which should be evaluated as: appropriate, instructive, and honor the code (see next step). If not, then the who and how should provided sufficient information to use to determine if there is a need for an intervention and consequences.

Step Five: Intervention and Consequences

Guidelines for interventions and consequences should determine if they are: appropriate, instructive, and honor the code of conduct.

1. Consequences - three kinds:

2. Instructive. Does it teach mastery oriented behaviors for the student to use in the future. You didn't get you work done so come here, learn what to do, and show me you know how to do it.

3. Honor the code of conduct. Students, may believe the intervention or consequence to be above the code of conduct, However, if we are to live an ethical life we need to live by the code at all times. Students may not accept this at first, but they will respect the idea (Kohlberg theory of moral development) and as more and more success is achieved by helping students learn appropriate behaviors, they will become more supportive. However, this doesn't mean we should let others take advantage of us. So let's look at some different situations.


Most interventions usually require a short chat, a response of agreement like - okay, and a check to see if the student will commit to trying to keep it from happening again.

A second kind of intervention might be when a person doesn't seem able to initiate the onset of a behavior, but truly seems to want to change. In this case it may seem reasonable to give another chance with the condition that a friendly reminder will be issued if there is an indication the behavior is about to be initiated. If the student responds with this reminder appropriately, then the intervention can be repeated as progress is being demonstrated. If a student doesn't seem to be providing a cooperation effort, then something a bit more attention getting might help the student understand the benefits of reciprocity. The teacher might suggest that since the student interrupted learning, maybe there would be something the student could do to make up for it. Like using his or her recess time, or time before or after school, to compensate by cleaning something in the classroom or preparing something so other students wouldn't have to take time to do it. Depending on the student they may consider it as punishment, or retribution, or as reciprocity, or as a kind of public service.

This leads to a third kind of intervention where students may be upset with a student for repeatedly misbehaving, being disrespectful, and interrupting learning. The key here is, repeatedly and disrespectful. While it is human nature to forgive a less severe infrequent random event when the person seems contrite, it becomes harder when students repeatedly don't change and have little or no remorse. While these examples aren't provided to validate a violation of the code of conduct, they are meant to illustrate that sometimes the border of honoring the code may be encroached when a student's behavior repeatedly interferes with other students' learning, when this happens removal of the student is necessary to insure that the other students' learning continues with minimal interruptions. Some may not see this necessarily as a violation of the code. However, the argument can be made that removal of a student violates the code's continual commitment to contributing to learning as well as respect for the removed student. This can and should be included in the appropriate consequences discussions so students begin to understand a need to balance individual freedom and choice with safety, property rights, and making collective group decisions.

Practice determining consequences

Identify five or less misbehaviors to review how they could be dealt with in class. For each misbehavior describe how they could be handled how the above guidelines were used for deciding. Identify different intervention or consequences for each.

While there are many issues involved with the implementation of a code of conduct (conflict resolution, dialogue to change behavior, and behavioral interventions) the focus is to search for and agree on satisfactory solutions that are both effective in helping students to choose and use mastery oriented behaviors that are compatible with an ethical code of conduct.

Code of Conduct Outcomes

The main outcome of using a code of conduct and the related intervention strategies is the development of an internalized sense of ethical responsibility in each student that provides them with a feeling of shared control and self-efficacy for the good of a group.

Dr. Robert Sweetland's Notes ©