You’ve created a close-knit, respectful, and polite classroom team. An excellent start! But there’s more work to do – much more – in order to appropriately handle the student behavior (and misbehavior) you are soon to encounter.
Building a strong team is the foundation, but the rest of the house is built with expectations. There is an awful lot that can be said about how to set expectations, but we will keep this discussion down to the basics.
You'll find yourself setting group expectations much more often than setting individual expectations. In general, you will set expectations for the group, then remind individuals about following them. So, let's work our way through a detailed session of setting expectations. This is the kind of session you might experience during the first couple of weeks of school when you are establishing new procedures.
Please don't think that these are only for new teachers kicking off a school year; these are also the types of expectation-setting sessions that you will undertake (for example) when your students are itching to get their hands on the new stream-table science kits! Dirt, water, mess… everything that kids love to play around with! Believe me, explicit expectations are critical to the success of a lesson like that.
Let’s look at a real-world example to understand how the step-by-step procedure looks and sounds. I received this question through my website contact form:
“What is the most effective way to distribute equipment in a K-6 fitness class? I need an efficient plan to hand out equipment quickly and efficiently to all students.”
Ah… a perfect scenario for our purposes: eager kids who are in the mood to play, being handed stuff to play with.
Teachers set student expectations all day long for all manner of tasks, but when we are talking about objects that can be quite tempting to throw/roll/lob at other kids, the stakes are higher. But the same level of temptation could apply to so many things; just replace basketballs with:
- Band instruments
- Bathroom soap dispensers
Therefore, setting classroom expectations for handling “stuff” takes a different kind of reinforcement than setting expectations for turning in papers or being quiet during a teacher read-aloud. But, if you know how to implement the process below, you’ll easily be able to adapt it to less-problematic scenarios.
Don’t think that this process is a short and simple recipe, some magic approach that engenders perfect discipline the first time. Nope. This takes time and repetition, but only upfront; after student expectations are set and habits are built, you earn back the time you initially invest.
Let’s get started.
Step 1. Arrange the items logically
If the situation calls for it, put some thought into accessibility for the item(s) in question. In our fitness class example, that might mean lining up the balls on a bench before class. In your classroom, it could mean placing the clipboards in a bin by the whiteboard.
Remember, the kids themselves will have to get the items in question, so put yourself in their place (actually walk through the process) and figure out how to arrange things in order to avoid pushing and shoving, which leads me to the next step.
Step 2. Consider the flow
Do the students come up all at the same time? By two’s or three’s? In a single-file line? Ensure that your arrangement of items coordinates with the preferred process for getting them.
Step 3. Determine your student expectations
Base this upon your experience with the item in question… or grab a clipboard, ball, or jump-rope and see how much trouble you can get into with it! Jot down a few notes if needed, so you don’t forget something. Now you are ready for the students.
Step 4. Overview the item and its use and care
Don’t be afraid of humor! Give the item a name, call it your friend, say what makes your friend happy or unhappy… use your imagination. Make it brief, but cover all the bases on:
- What it is
- How it is used
- Why it is used
- What constitutes abuse
This is expectation-setting. Use the phrase, “My expectation is…” a few times so you can refer back to it (see step 8).
Step 5. Model the entire process
Don’t just talk through the process – show them. Walk the path that they will walk, pick it up the way they should pick it up, use it in the correct manner, then put it away properly. Humans are visual learners, and many elementary students cannot easily translate verbal instructions to personal actions. Show them, and they are much more likely to get it.
Step 6. Model with a few assistants
Draft a few kids from the class to go through the same process you just completed. This time, you will be watching and gently correcting if (when!) they make mistakes.
Step 7. Guide the class through the process
Remind them of each step, from the initial line-up to where they will ultimately end up.
Step 8. Stop… go back… repeat
If it is not going well, start over. And I mean from the beginning. Put the stuff away, sit back down, remind them, and do it all over again.
Never let students practice a process wrong. If you do, you’ll never get the performance you are hoping for. As stated above, invest the time now for dividends that last the entire year.
In extreme circumstances, you may spend the entire time you have allotted for your lesson practicing – or it may just seem like you did! And that’s okay… sometimes we just have to out-wait the naughties.
Also, be open to altering the process; students may have ideas for shaving seconds off a routine once they understand the goal.
That’s the full process. Apply it in varying measures to every expectation you set. Not everything may require all eight steps, but many things will. If things start to slip over time: repeat, repeat, repeat. Any time expectations are not being met, take the entire class through the process again.
You’ll find yourself saying the same phrase many times throughout the school year:
“My expectation is that you will…”
Video tips: expectation setting explained
And even more expectations
The situations in which expectations must be established are too numerous to list in detail, but some activities from a typical day will give you an idea of what’s involved. This is just a small taste of the comprehensive web of expectations I weave to maintain order:
- How to walk into the building
- How to store coats and backpacks
- How to get chairs down from desks
- How to check in on the interactive whiteboard
- How to hand in homework
- How to work on and turn in the entry task (bell work)
That covers about the first fifteen minutes of the day, and you can already see the premium I place on setting expectations! The expectations for every one of these activities were explained in detail and modeled more than once so that there would be no questions at all about how to do them properly.
I could sum it up by saying that the list of activities the kids do without an expectation-setting session would have no more than ten items on it, and they would be things the kids have learned from earlier grades, such as how to go through the lunch line – although I have practiced this with fifth-grade classes when needed!
Your first week of school has lots of expectation-setting sessions; your first month has lots of reminder sessions; the entire year has mini-sessions for new situations. You cannot expect kids to behave in the proper way if you have not explained and shown what the proper way looks like, and held every student accountable for doing it right.
“Are you meeting expectations?”
“What are the expectations for this activity?”
The question approach is much better than saying, “You are not meeting expectations,” because it requires self-reflection. Any time you require a student to reflect or question themselves before responding, you are reinforcing learning to the greatest extent possible – and this applies to curricula and behavior.