Content

By Kim Campbell

A group of parents were asked the following question: what teacher behaviors do you see in classrooms that create a successful learning environment for your child? Here are their responses:

  • Hands down—enthusiasm and a well disciplined classroom.
  • Consistency with student expectations and guidelines. Sincerity in communication with students.
  • They have respectful classrooms. They don't have quiet classrooms, and their classrooms tend to seem chaotic to a casual observer—but a high level of respect is present to and from each individual, including the teacher.
  • From what my five children have said over the years, I have concluded this: If my child feels that he or she has an equal chance to learn because the leader of the class, the teacher, has control over the class—then the focus of the class becomes everything the teacher does to make the subject interesting or fun.

A word that is constantly tossed about in the world of education is expectations. We’re told that teachers must have high expectations for all students. School boards, administrators, state education agencies, and legislators have high expectations for teachers. Parents and community members have all sorts of expectations for teachers and for students. Teachers have expectations of parents. And what about the students? They too have expectations of what will happen when they sit in a classroom and “live” in a school. There’s little doubt that expectations are omnipresent! But I am not certain that all the stakeholders in education have clear ideas about their own expectations, let alone any sort of agreement on the list.

For High Academic Expectations, First Set Behavior Expectations

I doubt that all of the people in this “chain of expectations” are sure how to make those expectations come to life in the classroom. Most of the talk among educators and parents about “high expectations” revolves around academics. But what about expectations for behavior? Where do they fit into the picture? How do all the expectations gel together to build a caring, successful learning community?

Here’s a strong bias of mine, formed from my own experience and that of many teachers I have mentored: to implement high academic expectations, you must first have high expectations for behavior. It cannot be the other way around. If you want to create a rigorous curriculum where students are expected to stretch to high academic standards, then you must first concentrate on establishing a climate of high behavior standards. Sterling academic ideals won’t be useful if students do not learn processes for living and working together respectfully. Once high behavior standards are successfully implemented, you can move with ease into working on academic excellence, and then, joyfully, watch students exceed those academic expectations!

Expectations—What and Why?

WHAT? Let’s begin to get clear about what we mean by expectations. This noun covers everything students do in the classroom—and sometimes outside the classroom, too. This ranges from what they bring to class to how they treat each other or sharpen their pencils to how they approach their studies. When you think about it, we have dozens (maybe hundreds) of expectations for students. What gets the most attention is the expectations that adults have for the kids—how they should conduct themselves and how they should perform in the classroom. Often, adults hold these expectations closely, and students don’t even fully “get” what they are. The first rule about expectations is that students must understand what they are, what they mean, and how it looks to meet them. Never assume that students, even teenagers, come to your class automatically understanding expectations of how to act in a classroom or what it means to be a good student. Even if you have posted expectations on the wall or read them loudly and enthusiastically, do not assume students know how these translate into action.

In a classroom, expectations generally fall into these two categories:

Procedures—A procedure is a set of specific steps to follow in performing a task, such as getting a hall pass, contributing to a class discussion, or putting together a report. Procedures make the classroom operate more smoothly. Every classroom needs procedures for organizational tasks (such as getting and storing materials or sharpening pencils), for how we get along together (such as handling conflict, disagreeing, or behaving in discussions), for instructional tasks (such as completing assignments or turning in homework), and for academic habits (such as note-taking, working hard, or doing your best). Students learn clear steps for tasks they’ll do daily, and these tasks then become automatic.

Rules—A rule is a principle to guide conduct. Most classrooms have at least a few rules, and they are generally connected to clearly stated consequences if the rules are not followed. Some classrooms call these commitments—agreements they have about how they are going to live and work with one another respectfully.

In my experience, a classroom that has reasonable, working procedures for most classroom tasks will need few rules. This is because most troubles in a classroom are the result of no procedures, inappropriate procedures, procedures that students don’t fully understand, or procedures that don’t work.

WHY? Clear, working expectations (rules and procedures) offer the same benefits as routines. Routines are about a sequence of activities—a schedule or rhythm for doing things. A routine is simply a set of steps for helping something run smoothly—a plan for getting something done. Routines are necessary for teachers and very important for kids because they take the guesswork out of “what are we supposed do now or today.” They offer certainty and safety because kids know what to do and when to do it. Procedures that are discussed, explained, modeled, and practiced bring organization and smooth flow to a classroom. Those routines help the teacher and students cultivate a climate that gives the cognitive and emotional space needed for real learning.

When expectations are put into practice, they promote responsibility and togetherness. Things work better. People get along better. Kids can feel pride in their classroom community. Many (and I assure you, many!) behavior problems that might interfere with learning are eliminated or reduced.

Procedures

Follow these guidelines when you set and communicate procedures to students.

  1. Make sure you outline procedures both for behavior and academics.
  2. Procedures must be simple, reasonable, fair, and doable.
  3. Each procedure must be appropriate for the developmental level of the students—this is part of the “reasonable” requirement.
  4. Put them in writing for yourself and for students—so that you can be consistent with them.
  5. Procedures are worthless if students don’t “get” them. Start the first day of school. Explain them thoroughly. Discuss them. Demonstrate them. Answer your students’ questions about them. Talk about why you need them. SHOW them what is meant by “take your turn when contributing to classroom discussion” or “write assignments in your student planner.”
  6. Practice all procedures right away. Try them out. Make sure they work. Practice them until they become automatic. By DOING this together, students will be improving the management of the classroom; they’ll begin to take ownership of the procedures when they see how they make classroom life better. Take them seriously. It will help students get them down pat.
  7. Make sure you have a plan for communicating your classroom procedures to other stakeholders. For example: How will you let parents know about homework procedures or what to do about missed assignments when a student is absent? How will you coordinate field trips with other classes?
  8. If you teach in a teaming situation, work with teammates to have consistent procedures across the team.
  9. Follow the procedures yourself. Don’t take special liberties. Model them for students.
  10. Periodically evaluate how the procedures are working. If a procedure is not working, if it is too hard to follow, or if it needs some changes, be willing to adapt it.

Rules

Follow these guidelines when you set and communicate rules to students.

  1. Carefully ponder what your rules will be. Decide ahead of time what the consequences will be for not following the rules.
  2. Limit the number of rules. An individual rule loses its power as the list grows long.
  3. Each one must be simple, reasonable, developmentally appropriate, and possible to follow.
    • Students should be able to memorize them quickly.
    • For example in my room I have four rules: No blurting; no talking when someone else is talking; be respectful (which I model, describe, and give examples); and always try, even if you feel silly.
    • Make sure you include rules that apply to behavior as well as to academic activity.
    • State and write each rule in language that can be understood and followed. State rules in positive terms so that students will know what to do.
  4. Starting the first day, explain the rules. Be prepared to talk about the “why”—why rules are needed for a group of people to live and work together, why this rule, what difference each rule makes. Ask what classroom life would be like without this rule?
  5. Illustrate, demonstrate, and elaborate on each rule. Remember, your students will not automatically know what it means “to work hard,” “to come to class prepared,” “to be kind to others,” or “to be responsible.”
  6. Post the rules in a prominent place.
  7. Share the rules with parents and other stakeholders. Put them in your parent handbook and on your class website. When you communicate with parents, let them know why the rules are important and what difference they will make in your classroom.
  8. Starting the first day, practice the rules. Role-play the behaviors, show examples and non-examples of following the rules—anything to help make them habits. By DOING this together, students will be improving the management of the classroom—they’ll begin to take ownership of the rules when they see how they make classroom life better.
  9. Throughout the year, keep talking and showing students how these behaviors look in the classroom. Make sure students understand that this is not something they hear on the first day of school and then forget.
  10. These will become a part of their classroom life at all times. Practice daily. Discuss often. Continually help students see how following each of the rules translates into actual action. Ask questions such as:
    • How can we tell if someone is being responsible?
    • What are the behaviors that demonstrate this?
    • If you are doing your best work, what does this look like?
  11. Spell out consequences for not adhering to the rules. State these clearly and administer them consistently. Key points to remember when giving consequence: Make sure you can manage them, have the time to enforce them and never give a consequence you can not deliver. Also, make sure your consequence fits the crime. Rules mean nothing if you do not follow-through to help students learn them and follow them.
  12. Adhere to the rules yourself. Show enthusiasm for them. Model them for students. This will show that you take them seriously. Constantly help students understand and articulate how these make life together rewarding and how they help everyone learn better.
  13. If you teach in a teaming situation, work with teammates to have consistent rules and consequences across the team.
  14. Your students must also understand that they will be held to all the general rules of the school. Most schools have expectations about behavior on school grounds and these must also be included in the expectations of your classroom.

As you consider the behaviors that are most important for (or most detrimental to) safe and successful classroom life, you will likely have some “pet peeves” in mind.  Each of us has a right to preserve our sanity in the place where we spend many hours each day. I suggest to teachers they answer this question: “What three behaviors, if you could eliminate them, would inspire you to want to teach seven days a week?” The top one on my list is “blurting” (interrupting, speaking out of turn, or interjecting something irrelevant when someone else is talking). This drives me nuts! Even though this falls under another rule—“be respectful”—I single it out and have a separate rule about it because it is such a pattern for middle school kids, and I feel it needs special emphasis. You might think about your own list of three behaviors that are non-negotiables in your classroom!

Setting Academic Expectations

There is little chance that students will meet high standards if their school environment is chaotic or unsafe. Again, clear behavioral and procedural expectations provide the safety that sets minds free to soar. Once you have the framework in place for a functional, well-managed setting where students know what to do and how to get along, you can focus on actions to move students academically, to challenge their thinking, inspire their desire to learn, and help them achieve their highest potential.

In my view, high academic expectations start and finish with the teacher’s belief in every student. The teacher must believe and show that belief that all students can learn, grow, and excel.

Students must be sure that you believe they can learn and can do things that are even harder than they might think they can do. If they do not know this unequivocally, you can forget about high standards, and even students who are intrinsically motivated need to know this. You demonstrate your belief in them (or lack of it) by your comments, attitudes, behaviors, tone of voice, responses to them, gestures, facial expressions, body language, enthusiasm for learning, preparedness, lessons, and energy.

Teach students what high standards are. What does “high” mean? It means to succeed at everything you possibly can. It means to accomplish, master, understand, and complete tasks, concepts, and processes at your grade level and beyond—or beyond what you are used to doing. Teach them by showing the difference between low and high standards. Help them understand what it means to be a successful student. (A caution about the following list: this is not just a list of things to say. I guarantee—these are examples of statements that teachers say all the time and students tune out. You must show students precisely what each of high standards looks like:

  • Be prepared. Do your work.
  • Do your work well. Do all your work.
  • Do your work on time. Take homework seriously.
  • Turn in your homework. Try hard.
  • Put forth effort. Bring all your supplies to class.
  • Be ready to learn. Study for tests. Listen.
  • Participate. Listen and learn from others.
  • Share your ideas. Finish what you start.
  • Reflect on your work. Make good decisions.
  • Push yourself beyond the easy. Don’t settle for mediocre work.
  • Try new things. Ask for help.

Hold and model high expectations for yourself. Demonstrate in the way you do your job that every behavior you are teaching them is about meeting academic standards. Don’t sit, keep moving, stay on top of the students’ work and progress. I don’t have a desk. I am constantly among my students—always paying attention to how they are doing, who is lost, who needs a push, and who needs a scaffold.

Expectations for the Teacher

The first expectation for the teacher is that he or she believes that students can reach high standards. Hundreds of research studies verify the transformative effects of the teacher’s expectations on student growth. In his classic examination of leadership in 1994, Warren Bennis found that a teacher’s high expectation was sufficient to cause an increase of 25 points in student IQ scores. This is not just a call to some philosophical idea. It is not enough to say you believe all students can learn and excel. Look at every one of your students and say that (and believe it) about him or her. Treat all students consistently and equitably.

I am adamant about being tuned in to yourself and your students as human beings. You can’t promote good learning, teach acceptable behavior, run a smooth classroom, or teach content effectively without being present to your students—without relationships, respect, and procedures.

Be committed to teaching an academic course of study and teaching it well. I am just as adamant about this part of the teacher’s role. This is what the job of a teacher is. Create an academic environment that says “we are here to learn, I believe you can learn and I am here to help you.” When Warren Bennis reported the astounding effects of high teacher expectations, he also made it clear that high standards must be accompanied by supports necessary to help students reach them. The absence of this, he said, “would not only be ludicrous but cruel and frustrating, robbing students of their intrinsic motivation for learning.” (Bernard, Bonnie, 1994, page 45, Turnaround Teachers and Schools)

Set high behavioral and academic expectations for yourself. Be prepared. Be on time. Be enthusiastic. Stretch yourself. Students must see you epitomizing a good learner. Don’t let yourself or your lessons get stale. Be consistent. Come to school every day (from the first day) assuming that learning will take place. Start class on time. Every time—give your students a clear message that this class is so important that we will get underway right away—as soon as the bell rings! Support, demonstrate, and enforce all behavioral expectations.

The issue of high expectations is an easy one to understand, and easily added to your teacher values. However, those high expectations are not as easy to implement. How does one convey those expectations and support students in such a way that students are willing to meet those expectations? How do we as teachers help students believe in their own possibilities? We start by reviewing own expectations of our students and of ourselves, especially the ones where we have achieved some success with as that can help us understand what makes expectations work. Through self–reflection, first by determining our own expectations, and then by interpreting why those particular ones were successful, we can transfer that knowledge to set expectations for our students.

Self-reflection is a valuable and easy way to determine which expectations will be most helpful in our classrooms, academically and behaviorally. The self-reflection exercise below is divided into academic and behavior expectations and is designed to help you to determine what you believe is important in your classroom.  Rate each statement on a scale of zero (never) to five (always).  Reflect on the results – Are you pleased with your answers? Are there areas that need to be improved? Do you see a relationship between your answers and the behavior/academic performance in your classroom?  Use the results to set a plan of action for your classroom or school.  Select areas that need to move “up the scale” and use them to better develop a classroom (or school) culture of high expectations for all.

Self-Reflection: Behavior Expectations

  • I start class on time, sending a clear message that this class is important and setting the expectation that they will be ready.
  • I set and communicate clear behavior expectations. I make sure that students fully understand what each expectation means.
  • My students definitively know what the consequence of a misbehavior will be.
  • I apply consequences consistently and equitably.
  • When I confront a student about a behavior issue, the student always has a chance to tell his or her side of the story.
  • I redirect students who blurt, talk when someone else is talking, or speak in a tone that would be considered disrespectful.
  • I do not use “shhh” to quiet or redirect class. Instead I use the student’s name, proximity, and “I need” statements.
  • I teach appropriate behavior instead of saying, “knock it off” or “stop that.” (For example: eyes on me, pencils down, mouths closed, knees facing me).
  • I am deliberate in building relationships with all my students. (For example, I greet students at door, smile, laugh, share personal tidbits, ask students about things they have shared.)
  • I move around the room, monitoring students constantly as they work independently or in groups.
  • I do not allow disrespect, inattention, or sleeping in class.
  • I recognize that students of all ages need to move around at times during the lesson.
  • I avoid power struggles with students. I choose my battles wisely. I say, “You can do ___ now, or if not, ___ is going to happen.”
  • I am willing to discuss classroom issues with my colleagues to gather advice, support, and encouragement.
  • With my students and colleagues, I follow through with what I say I am going to do.
  • I create ways to involve and communicate with the parents of my students. (For example, a biweekly email, monthly newsletter, parent volunteers)
  • When there has been a major discipline issue with a student, I follow up by finding and talking with the student and seeking reconciliation.

Self-Reflection: Academic Expectations

  • I believe all students can learn and succeed in my classroom.
  • I have high expectations for myself as a teacher: I reflect on my lessons and teaching; I am willing to try new ideas and strategies; and I am an advocate for my profession.
  • I create an essential question for every unit and make sure each lesson attempts to answer that question.
  • I have my agenda and goal of the lesson posted in my classroom for students to see. I review this daily with students
  • I implement STOP (Stop Teaching Observe Progress) or other ways to monitor my students’ progress, every 10-15 minutes throughout the lesson.
  • I incorporate the following rule in my teaching: review new material every 10 minutes, again 48 hours later, and again 7 days later. (Eric Jensen, Top 10 Brain-Based Teaching Strategies, 2010).
  • I create opportunities in my class for students to dialogue with each other and the entire class. (For example, TAPS or Socratic Seminar)
  • I incorporate WICRT (Writing, Inquiry, Collaboration, Reading, & Technology) into most of my lessons. (Advancement Via Individual Determination, AVID)
  • I provide timely feedback on my students’ tests, assignments, quizzes, and projects.
  • I recognize my own learning style and tendencies and try to develop lessons that incorporate other methods of instruction.
  • I do not blame the parents of my students for their lack of homework completion, engagement, or behavior. Instead, I try to meet each student where he or she is, and work from there.
  • I attempt to incorporate current relevant information into my lessons and allow students to dialogue about the topic being presented (current events, YouTube clips, and such).
  • I utilize Bloom’s Taxonomy to develop questions for assignments, as well as for class discussions.
  • I am very purposeful in the homework I assign. I may even state the purpose of the assignment on the homework.
  • I recognize that it is my job to help students reach the high expectations I have established. I provide after or before school help time, resources, etc., to help all students succeed.
  • I use exit cards to make sure students understand the material or to determine if they have questions.
  • I find ways to hold students accountable for what has been taught each day in my class by implementing daily quizzes, active votes, clickers, or reflection writing.
  • To have an understanding of the levels within my class, I know the state scores in reading and math for each of my students.
  • I recognize that I must first establish high behavior expectations prior to implementing high academic standards.

The above article is adapted from “If You Can’t Manage Them, You Can’t Teach Them,” by Kim Campbell and Kay Herting Wahl. The focus of the book is classroom management and was written to assist teachers in understanding the importance and process of classroom management techniques. It is used with permission from and will be published by Incentive Publications in April 2012.  

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Kim Campbell is a 7th grade geography teacher who, along with Kay Herting Wahl, has also written Students on Academic Rise (SOAR): A Handbook for Addressing the Achievement Gap, also published by Incentive Publications.

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