January 14, 2019
By: Chandra Williams, Ed.D., Chief Executive Officer
Imagine you are a mechanic… Today is your first day on the job. You arrive at work around 7:30 a.m. and your boss orders you to your designated workstation with almost no direction. You know that as a mechanic your job is to fix cars, but you do not know how to check-in new customers, where your tools are located, how much time you’ve been allocated for each task, how to finalize a job, and so forth.
Fast forward six months… Your boss still has yet to teach you the rules of the game. You’ve picked up on some key routines and located a handful of tools, but your days aren’t nearly as productive as they should be six months into your new gig. To make matters worse, your boss is now punishing you for not excelling at your job even though he hasn’t given you the tools and knowledge to do well. Often times, this punishment comes as a surprise, with little to no explanation on how you can improve your future performance. Now, not only are your days less productive, but your attitude has taken a turn because you’ve reached a point of frustration.
Unfortunately, this is how far too many students are set up at the beginning of each school year. On the first day of school, students arrive in a new and exciting environment, knowing their primary goal is to learn and grow through their educational experience. As an educator, it is important to start exploring each student’s performance right off the bat; this helps to effectively determine academic and behavioral needs. But it is important to remember that skill sets will vary year to year, and even for the strongest students generalization may be difficult when they first enter the novel environment of a brand new school year.
Teachers often assume that students already possess the academic repertoire that they need to be successful learners. Furthermore, teachers often make the assumption that students already know the rules of their new classroom, or will simply pick them up as the year progresses. This ambiguous method for establishing classroom rules and routines can be a major setback that often leads to additional barriers as the year continues.
Establishing consistent classroom expectations is a key foundational principle of classroom management. Creating clear boundaries and steady routines help students understand what is expected of them throughout each school day. This type of consistency allows students to direct their focus on learning rather than playing the guessing game when it comes to expected behaviors. This approach helps students avoid learning bad habits from each other or wasting valuable time picking up bits and pieces as they go.
Classroom expectations are guidelines put in place to assist students and teachers in maintaining the structure. These guidelines are developed for students to understand what types of behaviors are expected of them throughout the duration of the school day. It also allows teachers to focus more heavily on academics.
Giving students the opportunity to participate in establishing the set of expectations they will be required to adhere to is an essential part of this process, as it will aid in building buy-in and make it more likely that students will practice each behavior appropriately.
When developing classroom expectations, it is important to focus on what both you and your students as a whole view as the necessities that lead to maintaining a consistent and productive classroom structure. When creating expectations, teachers should adhere to key principles in order to prevent an overabundance of guidelines, which can change the classroom dynamic from one focused on learning and academics to one focused on routines and regulations. It is very important the classroom expectations are thorough, specific, and easy to remember.
Reinforcing Student Behavior
Classroom expectations provide students with guidelines for appropriate scholarly behavior. Identifying what types of behavior is expected allows students to build their own repertoires of skills and problem-solving approaches. Enhancing this type of constructive skill set will allow students to be more productive and successful within the classroom. Increased rates of success and independence build student confidence, which often results in higher rates of positive performance.
Similar to the constructive guidance provided by clear classroom expectations, teachers are given direction to provide student feedback. Establishing well-defined expectations for the classroom gives teachers a set of positive behaviors to reinforce. Positive reinforcement increases the frequency of behaviors. If teachers are able to positively reinforce the observable behaviors defined within the classroom expectations, students are more likely to engage in those behaviors. Additionally, this approach encourages educators to focus on positive behaviors rather than punishing less favorable responses.
A Classroom Without Expectations
A classroom without consistent student expectations lacks the necessary structure that students require to be successful. Reliable guidelines allow teachers to closely anticipate student behavior. This type of anticipation makes it possible for teachers to plan for expected barriers as well as focus more heavily on academic needs. While it is often easier to catch students “doing something wrong,” without classroom expectations, teachers are frequently punishing rather than reinforcing behaviors.
Without clearly defined expectations, students are left to figure out for themselves what is considered the right behavior versus the wrong behavior. This takes significant time and is typically learned through error. But by establishing expectations early on, and reviewing them repeatedly, more time can be devoted to teaching and learning.
Creating Classroom Expectations
Expectations should be created to meet the needs of each classroom. They should also be individualized to each specific class, but generalized to all students in the room. Additionally, classroom expectations should be stated positively. This gives the teacher a set of observable behaviors to reinforce. It is important that classroom expectations are stated clearly to minimize ambiguity.
When determining expectations, it is crucial to ensure that each expectation is well-defined, achievable, and necessary to the success of the classroom. The content of classroom expectations should be consistent with the behavioral and academic goals of the school.
Common behavior expectations:
- Raise a quiet hand
- Use appropriate language
- Keep hands and feet to self
Common academic expectations:
- Track with your finger
- Make corrections as you go
- Answer on signal
Training Up Classroom Expectations
Classroom expectations should be taught and practiced in the environment in which they will be applied. The real-life application allows students to learn and generalize the necessary skills to be successful students. Expectations should be taught and reviewed regularly throughout the duration of the school year. It is important for students to continue monitoring their behaviors as the year progresses to minimize backslide. In addition to visually posting expectations throughout the classroom, it is important to frequently review, practice, and discuss these expectations. Often this means a daily review at the start of the school year, cutting back to reviewing a couple times per week as the year progresses. Frequent maintenance helps students master their behavioral skills and ensures long-term retention. There are a variety of strategies to consider when teaching and reviewing classroom expectations. Each strategy provides a different element to successful learning.
Strategies for training
- TEACH: By starting with a clearly defined expectation, and stating why it is important for student success, teachers can minimize confusion and help build buy-in.
- MODEL: Modeling what each expectation looks like helps students better understand what is expected of them.
- EXAMPLES VS. NON-EXAMPLES: It is just as important for students to understand what resembles an inappropriate response. This allows students to know what positive behavior looks like and what types of behaviors could potentially cause trouble. It is not uncommon for students to engage in inappropriate behaviors due to a lack of understanding or difficulty in distinguishing between appropriate and inappropriate responses.
- PRACTICE: Allowing students the opportunity to practice classroom expectations gives them the chance to engage in appropriate behaviors and facilitates long-term retention.
- REFLECTION: Reflecting on personal behavior gives students the chance to identify positive responses and determine what behaviors to work on.
The goal in any classroom should be to maximize student success through academic and behavioral achievement. This can be done by instituting consistent and reliable classroom expectations and routines. By ensuring that expectations are essential to student success (and achievable with the proper training strategies), teachers can obtain maximum classroom efficiency. Additionally, building strong classroom management helps promote long-term student success. Alleviating stressors, such as common behavioral concerns, within the classroom helps the teacher focus on teaching and the students to focus on learning.
Chandra Williams, Ed.D. has worked in various senior leadership positions such as the state director of curriculum and instruction, chief academic officer, director of second opportunity schools, school turnaround principal, special education teacher, and clinical social worker.
The Center For Student Achievement Solutions provides technical assistance, professional development, and coaching support to create schools and classroom environments that are equitable and inclusive.