Developing Classroom Expectations

What Are the Expectations for How the Students and the Teacher Treat Each Other?

Once a teacher has developed a philosophy for classroom management, has created a plan for how the classroom should operate, has investigated the make-up of the class, and has secured information about school expectations, then the process of establishing classroom expectations can begin. Expectations communicate specific standards of behavior for the classroom. Expectations generally communicate how students treat each other as opposed to procedures that communicate how students operate in the classroom (Evertson & Emmer, 2009). Expectations describe behaviors that make the classroom a good place to live and learn for all students (Weinstein, 2003). Expectations communicate general standards or expectations with a single rule encompassing a wide range of behaviors. Research has shown that designing and implementing expectations at school, and at home, significantly influence behavior and learning. Expectations clearly communicate that school is a place for learning and will give students a structure to help them feel that school is a safe and a predictable place to learn (Marzano et al., 2005).

Research indicates that expectations should not be forced on students, but developed with students. Student involvement increases the sense of ownership and the likelihood that students make the expectations their own. Teachers might ask themselves the following questions related to developing classroom expectations:

  1. What kinds of expectations do you usually set in the classroom? (For pre-service teachers, this is usually based on experiences in student teaching or on personal experiences as a student). Additionally, effective teachers take the time to explain the reasons for expectations.
  2. What are some reasons for setting expectations?
  3. How might the classroom expectations differ in the elementary classroom and in the secondary classroom?
  4. Should students be involved in developing the expectations? If so, how are students involved?
  5. Setting student expectations is not usually a topic that students see as "fun." Think about interesting and creative ways to include students in the process.
  6. Think of a time when a classroom seemed well-managed. What characteristics were observed?
  7. Creating too many expectations or too few expectations can create a situation where the classroom is about expectations, not learning. How can a teacher create balance?
  8. Posting the expectations is one way to help students remember them. What are other ways of helping students remember them? (Marzano et al., 2005).

As a teacher reflects on expectations for the classroom, four basic principles are offered for consideration (Weinstein & Mignano, 2003).

Four Principles for Planning Classroom Expectations
Principle of Expectations Questions to Think About
  1. Expectations are reasonable and necessary.
  2. Expectations are clear and understandable.
  3. Expectations are consistent with instructional goals and what is known about how people learn.
  4. Classroom expectations are consistent with school expectations.
What expectations are appropriate for this grade level?
Is there a good reason for this expectation?
Is the expectation too abstract for students to comprehend?
To what extent do I want my students to participate in the decision-making process?
Will this expectation facilitate or hinder my students' learning?
What are the school expectations?
Are particular behaviors required in the halls, during assemblies, in the cafeteria, etc.?

One approach is to have students write a class pledge or a class promise to share expectations for how they treat each other. This strategy helps to create responsibility for the classroom, respect for self and others, and an understanding of the culture of the learner. It is a way to reinforce student responsibility in the classroom and a way to secure student buy-in. A class pledge or promise further increases how students are expected to treat each other and further enhances understanding of the class expectations. An example might include:

Every day, in every way, I will do everything I can to learn the skills I need to be a success in any job that I choose. I will respect others and myself. I will do my best.

Another approach that involves students in developing classroom expectations is to have students write or draw expectations for the classroom. Allow students to brainstorm ideas and accept all ideas that are worded positively or negatively. Transfer the ideas or drawings to chart paper. Older students can complete the process by meeting in groups and combining responses. Work with students to combine their ideas into three to five expectations for how they should be treated and how they should treat each other. Make sure that the expectations are appropriate to the level of the students. Daniel Meier, who describes his experiences as a first grade teacher in Learning in Small Moments: Life in an Urban Classroom, writes about the process of how he and his co-teacher, John Sierra, introduced rules to first graders (Weinstein & Mignano, 2003).

  • Secure student attention and say "Students, this is your class and I want us to work together to set our own expectations for our classroom so that we can all get along together this year". Ask if students have any ideas for expectations that are necessary for the classroom.
  • Establishing expectations together is common practice in classrooms where the goal is pro-social behavior and creating a high level of student involvement. Most students will take their cue and eagerly participate in listing a variety of expectations. Record all ideas and suggestions on chart paper, on a transparency, or the smart board. Students suggestions are recorded in their own words:
    • Don't hit people.
    • Don't bother people.
    • Don't tease people.
    • Be nice.
    • No stealing.
    • Don't kick.
    • No karate.
    • No kicking.
    • Stay out of trouble.
    • Take care of school property.
    • Help each other.
    • Don't say bad things about people.
  • After students' ideas are listed, comment that the rules are very good, but the list is so long that there are too many to remember. Comment that there are some expectations that seem to be the same. Ask students if the ideas could be grouped into fewer headings. Suggest that expectations like hitting, and kicking could hurt people physically. Circle or mark these ideas in blue. Other expectations like teasing and saying things could hurt people's feelings. Mark or circle these ideas in red. Look at the ideas written in positive terms. How should they be circled? Look at the ideas dealing with school property. Could this be a separate category?
  • Work with the students to crystallize a final list if expectation. The expectations might include:
    1. Respect others.
    2. Respect personal property of others and of the school.
    3. Do your best every day in everything.
  • Post the expectations and attach the ideas from the students to the appropriate expectations.
  • Post the expectations and add ideas as necessary to the posted expectations (Weinstein & Mignano, 2003).

Whether the teacher involves students in developing the rules or whether pre-written expectations are presented, a teacher who establishes reasonable expectations, who provides an understandable rationale, and who enforces the expectations consistently will find that students are willing to follow them (Evertson & Emmer, 2009).

After a class has expectations in place, the teachers should treat expectations like any other academic subject by developing a plan for teaching the expectations. This plan could include listing the expectations on the board and transferring students' ideas from the chart to the expectations on the chart. This should include discussions and role playing of how expectations look when students follow them; how expectations sound as students follow them; and how students feel as they demonstrate them. This process requires more than one class period and may take place over the first week of school. When students start to ignore the expectations, teachers should revisit them and re-teach them. As a preventive process, effective classroom managers review the rules weekly, monthly, or by six week periods.


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