Strategy: Teaching Behavior Expectations

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Given that behaviors that are acceptable and productive at home or in the community may not always translate to the school setting, teaching behavior expectations is an important component of sensitivity to students’ culture. An expectation is a globally stated standard of conduct that is composed of positive characteristics that lead to success. In other words, we clearly and succinctly explain to students the behaviors that we desire as opposed to telling students what not to do. It is important to teach students specific behaviors that represent these broader important expectations. Examples include “Be Respectful, Be Responsible, Be Kind, Be Safe, and Excel.” Think of behavior expectations as guidelines for success.

Students enter school with many different experiences. Therefore, it is important not to assume students will understand what being respectful (or other socially important constructs) look like in the context of the classroom without being taught, much like we teach students to read and write.

Unlike learning math facts or letters in the alphabet, learning social behavior is more abstract for many students. Clearly defining and teaching behavior expectations in the classroom can reduce errors that students make simply because they do not understand what a particular behavior should look like in the classroom. Teaching behavior expectations makes it clear to students what they need to do to be a successful student, reducing the time you spend away from instruction to correct behaviors.
How Teaching Behavior Expectations Connects to CARES
Most parents and teachers have similar expectations for students; however, specific rules or expectations are often highly contextualized. For example, for some students there is an expectation to defend their family’s honor or that if someone hits them, they should hit them back despite the zero-tolerance policies for such behaviors in many schools. Oftentimes, students forget to raise their hand because of completely acceptable family and home norms consisting of yelling out or talking over others to get their point across. Teachers who display genuine sensitivity to students’ cultures understand that many students traverse between disparate home and school cultures each day, requiring explicit instruction related to the specific behavioral expectations required for success at school. Helping students understand behavioral expectations also leads to better and more authentic relationships when teachers are not constantly having to address student misbehavior. Teachers who effectively communicate behavioral expectations from the beginning of the year have more instructional time and more time to positively engage with students.
Some key elements to effectively teach behavior expectations include:
1) Define behavioral expectations so that they are developmentally appropriate, culturally responsive, positively stated, specific, and observable.
2) Make the expectations relevant and important to students by telling them the purpose of the behaviors.
3) Explicitly teach and review behavioral expectations.
4) Practice behavioral expectations.
5) Regularly reinforce and reward students for meeting behavioral expectations. When possible, ask students to help define and demonstrate the behavioral expectations.

How To

How to Teach Behavior Expectations
Teaching Behavior Expectations - Icon
You can start teaching behavior expectations from the beginning of a school year. In addition, you may find that students benefit throughout the school year by reviewing the behavior expectations. This is particularly true after long breaks like the winter holidays. The following provides ideas for both.

Strategy Tool

Teaching Behavior Expectations - Strategy Tool 1
Use the Starting the Year off Right strategy tool to identify behavior expectations and help teach the expectations to students in your classroom at the start of the year.
Teaching Behavior Expectations - Strategy Tool 2
Use the Teaching or Reviewing Behavior Expectations Throughout the Year strategy tool when students are struggling with expectations throughout the year (e.g., after a break from school or when 20% or more of students don’t seem to be meeting expectations).


Teaching Behavior Expectations - Reflection
Take a moment to make sure your plan is going to work.

Goal Setting

Teaching Behavior Expectations - Goal Setting
Use the following form to set your behavior expectation goals.

References to Other Relevant Resources:

Sprick, R. (2009). CHAMPS: A proactive and positive approach to classroom management. Eugene, OR: Pacific Northwest Publishing.

Reinke, W., Herman, K., & Sprick, R. (2011). Motivational interviewing for effective classroom management: The classroom check-up. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.


Concentration Areas: Connection to the Curriculum; Authentic Relationships; Reflective Thinking About Cultural, Racial/Ethnic, and Class Differences; Effective Communication; Sensitivity to Students’ Culture

What is CARES?

CARES is an acronym for the five domains that research has found to be successful in engaging students of culturally diverse backgrounds at school. Each letter refers to a significant element of interaction within the classroom. Applying all five domains of CARES works because it promotes a better understanding of students and ourselves by using strategies that deepen those relationships every day.

There is no single element that works independently of the others. All five CARES domains, together with the Positive Behavior Supports & Classroom Climate elements, support one another and need to be applied in the classroom to be successful.

Why is it important?

Research has shown that each of the five CARES domains has a significant impact on students and their behavior when used regularly and over time. Students who are known and understood by their teachers as individuals in the classroom report deeper connections academically and to their school. When teachers understand their own cultural heritage, they better understand the differences between themselves and their students and report higher levels of mutual respect with students. This also helps teachers to recognize the similarities they share with their students as well as recognize ways in which they are different. Students are more connected and engaged in classrooms where teachers welcome exploration; invite, acknowledge, and celebrate cultural differences; make relevant connections to the curriculum; listen attentively to understand how each student is approaching the concepts; and use humor and other effective communication tools.

Positive Behavior Supports & Classroom Climate

Concentration Areas: Smooth Transitions, Pacing of Instruction, Student Engagement, Clear Expectations, Use of Praise, Use of Reprimands, Level of Disruptive Behavior

What is Positive Behavior Supports & Classroom Climate?

Positive Behavior Supports refers to the proactive ways that teachers work with their students, as well as the ways that teachers respond to challenging situations with students. The focus is on recognizing and affirming student strengths rather than punishing them or taking something away from them. A positive approach to the classroom will promote a classroom climate that is welcoming to all students and is a place where students want to engage with the teacher, each other, and the curriculum. All individuals, students and teachers, and the interactions between and amongst all classroom members play a role in the climate.

There is no single element that works independently of the others. All Positive Behavior Supports & Classroom Climate elements, together with the CARES domains, support one another and need to be applied to the classroom to be successful.

Why is it important?

In a classroom climate that is positive and welcoming to all members, the classroom becomes a safe place where culture and diversity can be openly discussed. A supportive climate is one that promotes student engagement and success. Students feel supported and motivated to be an active member of the classroom community. The teacher taking a positive and proactive approach creates a climate of care and respect and promotes desired student behaviors. This classroom is also a place that provides consistency to students, which is especially important for students who may experience stress and uncertainty outside of the school building. Teachers who have positive and proactive classrooms report fewer disruptive behaviors from their students, an increase in student achievement, and better overall perceptions of school climate.

Teaching Behavior Expectations

CARES Overview

Greeting Students at the Door

Using Journals to Build Relationships

Identifying Reinforcers for the Classroom

Using Social and Emotional Coaching

Using Behavior-specific Praise

Using Active Supervision

Using Group Contingencies

Using Precorrection

Providing Academic Feedback

Increasing Opportunities to Respond

Developing and Using Clear Academic Objectives

Posting and Using a Schedule

Coaching Process – Menu of Options

Coaching Process – Providing Feedback

Coaching Process – Introduction and Overview

Observation Practice 4

Observation Practice 3

Observation Practice 2

Observation Practice 1

Using an Attention Signal

Teaching Classroom Routines

Physical Classroom Structure

Values Card Sort – Example

Card Sort Introduction

Coaching – Interview Guide

Opening the Meeting

Defining and Teaching Classroom Rules

Mrs. James

Miss Faber

Double Check Classroom Check-Up Overview