The Importance of Expectations for the Beginning Teacher
This Newsletter is one of a planned series designed to assist all teachers establish their expectations of their students whether this be at the start of a new semester or at the beginning of their careers. Long-time followers of our articles understand that all our approaches to effectively teaching curriculum are underpinned by three core strategies:
- Relationships – this more than any other task will determine the success or otherwise of a teacher’s success.
- Structure – the presence of a predictable relationship between actions and consequences provides a psychological security for both teachers and students.
- Expectations – in Lewis Carroll’s 1856 masterpiece ‘Alice in Wonderland’ the following exchange underlines the importance of knowing where you want to go.
‘When she came to a fork in the road, Alice asked the Cheshire Cat which road to take. The Cheshire Cat enquired, “That depends on where you are going”. Alice replied “I don’t know”. “Then it doesn’t matter which road you take”. Answered the Cheshire Cat’.
This essay will focus on setting out and fortifying the expectations a teacher wants in the standards they require for the behaviour that is acceptable in the classroom. This approach is equally valid for academic work but our focus is on dealing with disruptive behaviours.
At the very start of your time with any class you need to clearly articulate what are your expectations. At the beginning of my career, nearly 50 years ago the advice was to come-in hard and squash any dissent and when you had the class scared of you then you could loosen-up! Obviously that approach would not work today and in all reality it did not really work then; ruling by fear never works. However, there is some good sense in that you need to be particularly persistent in the reinforcement of your expectations. You do this by using verbal and non-verbal language to acknowledge appropriate behaviour and correct inappropriate behaviour. When you are giving Instructions know where you want to go and give clear instructions on how to get there.
How to Establish Expectations
Initially, present a small number of rules to students. These can be imposed by you or developed in class meetings. Developing rules in a class meeting can also be effective (Newsletter 96. - Creating Structure - 6 April 2020 has a summary of how to do this in a formal way). This is particularly important at the beginning of your time with a class or when you meet on an irregular basis where there may not have been time to develop a positive rapport with them. When you establish a rule publish it where it can be seen. Keep the rules short, simple and clear. Examples of these general rules might be:
- Follow teacher’s instructions
- Keep hands and feet to yourself
- Be respectful of others and property
- Stay on task
Discuss the rules with the class and it is as important to refer to them when they are being followed as it is when they are being disregarded.
Once you have established your expectations you will need to reinforce them until they become habitual in your classroom. You do this by either acknowledging when they are meeting your expectations and correcting them or when they are not. There is a balance between the amount of each approach, too much acknowledgement, constantly telling they are doing the ‘right thing’ reduces the effectiveness of this process. The same goes for correction, too much will cultivate a negative atmosphere in the classroom. The following illustrate the importance of this balance.
The teacher gives inadequate information about his or her expectations (as indicated by the broken line around the triangle). This is problematic because students will be unsure about the limits and boundaries of the classroom and what tasks they need to be doing.
Too Much acknowledgement
This is problematic because the students are not being corrected appropriately. This is often the result of teachers trying to manage through friendliness. They believe ‘if I am nice to the students they will like me and behave themselves’. This can also occur because the teacher lacks assertiveness.
Too much Correction
Students become resentful and continue to act inappropriately due to lack of acknowledgement and encouragement. In this imbalance teachers may not intend to be negative but have developed the habit of attending to inappropriate behaviour. In most cases where the whole class behaves inappropriately, this is evidence of the imbalance.
Giving Feedback to Maintain Balance
How you give instructions will determine your effectiveness as a teacher. The following hints will help:
- Clear, short instructions help students understand what they are expected to do.
- Instructions help students organise what they are required to do
- Instructions cue students that they need to be actively engaged with the curriculum
It is an important skill to evaluate the level of attention the students are giving you before you give instructions. To do this:
- Use a verbal and/or non-verbal attention gaining prompt to focus student attention towards you.
- Wait and scan; this gives students time to process the direction.
- When student attention is focused, start the instruction with a verb, keeping it short.
- Follow the instruction with a short pause and scan the class.
Why is parallel acknowledgement an effective management skill?
- It cues other students to match the behaviour that is being acknowledged
- It is an alternative to a redirection, so can help avoid nagging.
- It contributes to a positive tone in the classroom.
Patterns of Acknowledgement
- Body language encouraging – smiling nodding and moving near
- Takes no time
- Promotes positive tone and on-task behaviour
- Strengthens relationships
- Descriptive encouraging – describing the appropriate behaviour you see
- Reinforces the rules
- Promotes positive supportive learning environment
- Use of Praise
- Designed to reinforce appropriate behaviour through recognition
- Potential for embarrassment of older recipients
- Saying “good”, “terrific”, “well done” gives students very little information about their competence and has no training effect on other students in the class.
In the next Newsletter we will explore these concepts in more detail.