Put 20 to 30 children in a room for six hours a day, and things will occasionally get a little rowdy. But if a classroom is consistently out of control, that will have a negative impact on student learning outcomes and the stress level of the teacher.
There is a way for teachers to take control up front: by setting clear classroom expectations. According to ASCD, setting clearly defined parameters for classroom behaviors accounts for 25% of the factors that affect classroom discipline. Defining and communicating classroom expectations will help students develop mature social skills, learn more, and will create an overall classroom atmosphere that’s welcoming and safe for everyone.
Setting classroom expectations and developing learning goals collaboratively puts students at the center of the learning process. When teachers make classroom expectations clear, it allows students to take personal responsibility for their learning and behavior and adjust their progress toward classroom goals throughout the year. But teachers should focus on defining these expectations when school starts, setting up student success for the rest of the year. Expectations that are developed halfway through the year or are inconsistently reinforced will only confuse students.
It’s important that teachers understand and develop two kinds of classroom expectations: behavior expectations and learning expectations. Behavior expectations refer to the rules of etiquette that help keep a class running smoothly. Setting clear classroom behavior expectations has been proven to make concentrating and teaching in the classroom easier; research has shown that classrooms in which educators have set clear behavior expectations experience nearly 30% fewer disruptions than classrooms in which teachers have not set expectations.
But simply announcing the “class rules” isn’t enough to instill or curb specific behaviors. Just like regular school subjects, behavior expectations must be taught. For example, instead of simply posting a sheet that lists out behavior rules, teachers can turn behavior expectation setting into a discussion that involves the students. Try asking, “what do you think should and shouldn’t be allowed in the classroom, and why?” and then guide the discussion as needed. Students will then feel like they helped create the expectations, rather than simply being told what to do, which will help them stick.
Equally important to student success is learning expectations. When teachers outline what students are expected to learn at the beginning of the year, that helps students anticipate their learning needs and enables them to track their own progress. It can also get them excited about what’s to come later in the school year!
Expectations will obviously be different for different age groups. Here’s what sample expectations may look like for three different groups of students:
Often, teachers will overlook an equally important set of expectations: those for parents. Providing parents with clear guidelines for acceptable behavior and their expected level of involvement in their child’s education can head off parent-teacher conflict later in the year. Some parents don’t have much experience with relinquishing authority over their children, so defining parental behavior parameters will help them understand what this new role should look like. For example, teachers should let parents know at what times of year report cards come out, and on what days of the week progress reports are sent home, so they can be on the lookout for them and avoid bugging the teacher with repetitive questions on when reports will be released. A great way for teachers to communicate these expectations and important dates is by sending home a “Dear Parents” letter on the first day of school. Have students return with the letters signed by their parents to ensure the letter was looked over. This example outlines what such a letter may look like.
Sometimes the problem isn’t that parents are struggling with letting go of some of their control, but that they’re under-involved in their child’s education. Setting the expectation that parent involvement is crucial to student success may encourage less involved parents to step up. In their initial letters, teachers can share statistics and research that highlight the importance of parental involvement. For example, a 2002 study found that students with parents actively involved in their studies are more likely to excel academically, develop healthy social skills, attend class regularly, and even attend college. Clearly outlining what’s expected of parents should also help to bridge the communication gap with unresponsive or uninvolved parents.
Sometimes individual student, or the class as a whole, will fall short of classroom expectations. Instead of designing punishments for when this happens, teachers can devise a plan for reteaching and reinforcing classroom expectations. If certain students are repeatedly violating rules, more severe consequences may be in order, but occasional deviations from specific expectations most likely indicate a misunderstanding or forgetfulness. Try approaching classroom expectations as you would a classroom assignment: if a student does poorly, he or she is offered extra help, not sent to the principal’s office.
Teachers can head off misunderstandings about expectations by setting a good example. Showing students what acceptable behaviors look like by modeling the behaviors yourself in the classroom will help them visualize exactly what’s expected of them.
Setting classroom expectations and goals isn’t about telling students what to do; it’s about establishing the best way to succeed in the classroom together. Setting behavior and learning goals at the beginning of the year shows students that the teacher expects high achievement of them and has faith that every student is capable of it.