Do Your Classroom Expectations Help or Hurt?

classroom expectations

Are you in desperate need of behavior management strategies?

How do you think your classroom expectations are tied to this need?

Recently I read a text called, Building Engaged Schools: Getting the Most Out of America’s Classrooms, by Gary Gordon.  This was a fantastic read and covered so many different areas of opportunity I know that I will be revisiting this text for years to come.

Gordon (2006) makes a simple notation about school-wide and classroom expectations that is almost easy to miss:

“Behavioral standards, and clear communication of those standards, are obviously a necessity.  But do schools really generate positive outcomes by devoting so much attention to negative behavior … If the system or the teacher doesn’t highlight positive ways to accomplish the goal, [the students] may see the school’s evident preoccupation with negative behaviors as the best available alternative.”

What happens when you apply this quote to your own classroom expectations?

What does this quote say about your behavior management strategies?

This quote from Building Engaged Schools is a great reminder because it focuses on the essential aspect of school (and really life):

You get what you expect.

Sylvia Plath once said, “If you expect nothing from anybody, you’re never disappointed.”

Again, you get what you expect.

When I have worked with countless teachers that experience “problems” in the classroom, the most common problem are the low expectations.

Classroom expectations communicate a lot to students and the pupils love to meet expectations.  Humans want to be acknowledged, want to belong and be recognized, and the easiest way to do that is to meet or exceed expectations.

Behavior Management Strategies that Work

Reflection, routines, and restoration …

Maybe it’s time to stop focusing on behavior management strategies and first focus on positive classroom expectations.

To create a great positive class and school culture first reflect on your list of classroom expectations.

Gordon (2006) can be helpful here again.  In his book, he describes a middle school handbook that he came across that highlights the importance of positive classroom expectations.

In the handbook Gordon (2006) notes:

  • teacher teams are covered in 60 words
  • student council 4 lines
  • yearbook 3 lines
  • student clubs 2 lines
  • absences and truancy receive numerous detailed passages
  • 1/4 of the book addresses what students will not do.

Maybe Sylvia Plath meant to say … if you expect nothing from everybody, you just might get it.

How to Turn Around Low Expectations

Step 1 to building a better school and class is to reflect on your current classroom expectations.  Are they highlighting the positive or negative?  You get what you expect.

Now that you have a set of positive classroom expectations Step 2 would be to then make expectations and norms a routine.

My friend Paul is running the Chicago Marathon with me this year.  On a recent 10 mile run we had a great time catching up and a short anecdote he shared illustrates the importance of routine and follow-through.

Recently, his wife’s little sister (she’s 12) came to live with Paul and his wife for the summer.  Jokingly, he mentioned how he is now reconsidering having kids.

At first, he took a laissez-faire approach to discipline with the little sister, meaning he let his wife handle it (after all it wasn’t his sister!).

Well that didn’t work.

Soon the house was in chaos and Paul and his wife were very frustrated.

As a former teacher, Paul knew what he had to do …

He had a discussion about positive expectations and posted the family norms on the fridge (step 1).  Then he had to implement routine and follow-through (step 2).

It worked.

A week later as Paul’s wife tucked her little sister into bed she asked, “Can you take over discipline again …”  Routine and follow-through works.

Step 3: Restore.

If you have set up positive classroom expectations and are following-through, then you are on your way to making an impact on the school’s culture.

But, the norms will still be broken.  Follow-through is important, but have you heard of restorative practices?

Recently I wrote about developing an attitude of gratitude.  You can read those posts here and here.

Restorative Practices Discipline Model

Restorative practices are incredibly important because they also focus on what counts in culture: attitude, honor, and respect.

Rules will be broken by adults and children.  Consequences need to be given as a result, but how does a leader welcome someone who has violated expectations back into the community?

Restorative practices have been the best solution I have found on dealing with school discipline.  These practices do not ignore consequences.

Far from it.  Restorative practices invite the individual that violates an expectation into the process.  They form ownership as a result and are more likely to see the process of consequences as fair.

Often restorative practices in schools involve students in leadership positions that will help students process violations.  I love the leadership development opportunities for students involved in a restorative practices.  They develop great empathy and reflections skills, but best of all they are able to challenge their peers into being the best version of themselves.

Daniel E. Bauer

Daniel E. Bauer


Skype: betterleadersbetterschools

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I teach leadership skills through a data-driven and emotionally healthy approach that gets others to perform their best.

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P.S. I wrote a short eBook highlighting what I learned from the WCA Global Leadership Summit.