Why Are Shared Classroom Expectations Important?

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In an effective class, students know where things are going, how they fit in, and what is expected of them…

Things that are said, things that are done, patterns of action, body language and one’s tone of voice all send out information that students invariably interpret. Over time these interpretations lead students to construct answers to their questions and make judgments about what they understand is expected within the class. Put simply, students develop expectations through what they have experienced and observed in past classroom experiences.

In any classroom, expectations are ever-present. Whether they were promoted intentionally or unintentionally, whether they exist in the minds of students consciously or unconsciously, they are there continuously defining the feel and function of the classroom. Thus, the number of expectations that could potentially exist in any classroom are countless.

If teachers began to list all the behaviors that they desired from their students, they could identify hundreds. So while it is tempting to try to capture all of our expectations in a set of written rules, it will be ultimately counterproductive. Therefore, teachers need to make a distinction between the mechanisms for achieving some basic guiding ground rules/principles and promoting the endless number of other expectations that they want students to hold.

Therefore, classroom management efforts are most successful when we take a systematic approach to the development of the countless numbers of unwritten expectations.

Clear & Shared
In an effective class, students know where things are going, how they fit in, what is expected of them, and trust that others do as well.

The idea that expectations exist as shared concepts and ideas, seems rather abstract. However, an examination of a few classrooms helps validate this view.

For instance, most of us have observed a class in which all the students seemed to be on the same page and knew what was expected of them with very little “telling” on the part of the teacher. Contrastingly, we have also observed classes in which there were long lists of rules on the wall and the teacher made constant pleas for orderly behavior, yet the majority of students seemed to be working off conflicting scripts and the energy in the class could best be characterized as divergent and chaotic.

Benefits
There are a host of benefits to intentionally promote clear and shared classroom expectations:

  • Expectations that are clear and shared are essential to help foster the cause-and-effect relationship between actions and consequences. Without clarity and a shared understanding, consequences feel arbitrary. The result is that they will have less benefit and be experienced as more punitive and result in more resentment and less behavior change
  • The absence of clear expectations will create practical problems and an environment of uneasiness in the class that will lead to confusion, frustration and hostility when expectations clash
  • An intentional approach to promoting expectations helps students become more concrete and meaningful. When expectations exist as words (or even less-effective privately held assumptions), they remain abstractions. They must be “operationalized” to be effective
  • Expectations help the class interpret events and actions as examples or non-examples of “things that are making us better.” (For example, a funny comment can be either hurtful or act to amuse the group. The clarity of the expectation provides a means for helping members of the group understand which it is. The result is a class that feels more liberated to act, with less fear that what they do or say will be unwanted or unacceptable to others.)
  • In the absence of clear expectations, the teacher-centered class will inherently manifest and attempts at student-centered management will descend

Like this article for teachers?

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