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The Difference A Word Can Make

Author: Kathleen Nelson-Simley Posted: Thursday - September 19, 2019

When you hear the word, “rules”, what do you think of? How does the word make you feel? How does it sound to you?

Maybe the word sounds and feels the same to you as it does when kids hear it. When kids hear the word, “rules”, they think of everything they can’t or aren’t suppose to do. To them, rules are usually made by an adult and enforced upon them. Rules are made to be challenged.

Let’s try another word…what do you think of when you hear the word, “standards”? How does this word make you feel? How does it sound to you?

When you ask kids what the word, “standards”, means they usually say it is something they should or are expected to do. Standards are something to live up to.

The kids are right. There are major differences between the two words. If you were to do a definition search of them on Google you would find the following:

  • As nouns, the difference between “rule” and “standard” is that a rule is a regulation, law or guideline while a standard is a level of quality or attainment.
  • As a verb, to rule is to regulate, be in charge of, make decisions for or reign over.
  • As an adjective, standard is falling within an accepted range of size, amount, power or quality.

By definition alone you can see that rules are forceful. In fact, if you were to reference a thesaurus for synonyms for the word “rule” you would find words such as, “command”, “controlling” and “dominant”. Individuals are forced to bow DOWN and abide by a set of rules they may not agree with.

On the contrary, if you did a similar search for standards you would find words such as, “character”, “individuality”, “genius” and “virtue”. In this case, individuals rise UP in the situation to increase their likelihood of success.

The bottom line is…rules are negative while standards are positive.

During an interview, Coach Mike Krzyzewski of Duke University, who has more wins than any coach in Division 1 college basketball, once described his reasoning for use of standards instead of rules with his basketball team…

“When I was at West Point we had a bunch of rules, all of which I didn’t agree with. Usually when you’re ruled, you never agree with all the rules, you just abide by them. But if you have standards and if everyone contributes to the way you’re going to do things you end up owning how you do things.”

Coach “K” also coached the US Olympic Basketball Team comprised of NBA superstars - LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Jason Kidd, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and more. The question for him was never about talent; the question was whether the team could learn to play together, work together and get along together.

In their first meeting, he decided not to talk about offense and defense. Instead, he built the agenda around how the team was going to “live together.” He told the team, “We’re not going to have any rules. We’re going to have standards. His belief is that people don’t own rules, but they will own standards.

The same is true in your classroom or student group you work with. When you are the one who sets the rules for your students, without their input, they are more likely to challenge them and challenge you. Rules increase the chances you will have more negative and disruptive behaviors with your students. Why? They are your rules and not theirs.

If you want to increase the likelihood your students will get along and exhibit more positive behavior than negative, you need standards of behavior that you and they both create and buy into. Your students are more likely to live up to their own standards and hold each other accountable to them if they have a voice and vested interest in them.

So, what do you have established in your classroom or group? Do you have rules? Or, do you have standards? Your answer to this question can make all the difference to having a group of students who get along with each other and with you.