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Chapter 4: Intentionally Promoting Clear and Shared Classroom Expectations: The Cornerstone of the Effective Classroom

Partial Chapter – Introduction only.

From Transformative Classroom Management. By John Shindler. ©Jossey Bass

Reproduction is unlawful without permission

 

In this Chapter:

 

What are Classroom Expectations?

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. Students use their expectations to answer the questions in the class. These include the practical questions such as:

 

And they include the larger questions, such as:

 

It is useful to recognize that all teachers are constantly projecting expectations, and all students are continuously interpreting what they perceive the expectations to be for any situation.  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 learn what to expect in the future by what they have experienced and observed to be true in the past.

 

Where do Expectations Exist?

Indispensable to the transformative classroom will be the presence of intention and awareness. The means to achieving these qualities will be dependent on our ability to develop clear and shared expectations among the members of our class. In fact, by definition any classrooms’ expectations only exist to the degree that they are clear and shared. In the 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, a careful examination of a few classrooms will help validate this notion.

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 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.

 

 

Chapter Reflection 5-a: Recall the classes that you have observed that seemed to have a shared sense of purpose and direction. What do you think contributed to that environment?

 

 

So how do we create a classroom in which our students are all in congruence about those practical classroom realities that would work to their benefit? In this chapter, we will examine various strategies for creating intentional expectations.

 

Types of Classroom Expectations

Before we examine how one would go about attempting to promote shared intentional expectations, it is useful to make some distinctions about the various types of expectations that operate within any classroom, and the ways that this idea will be used throughout the remainder of the book. It might be helpful to classify the expectations within any class from least to most conscious and/or conspicuous beginning with 1) unconscious expectations, followed by 2) explicit but unwritten expectations, and then finally, 3) written rules, classroom constitutions or social contracts.

 

In Chapter 3, we examined the idea of unconsciously conveyed expectations. We noted that, as teachers, we need not try to communicate our biases, preconceptions and motives. They will find a way of affecting what we say and do. Recall the teachers in the Pygmalion in the classroom study (Rosenthal & Jacobs, 1968), in which they were told that some of their students were “rising stars.” These teachers were entirely unaware that their implicit expectations were having such a dramatic effect on how they were teaching. Because of this powerful effect, recognizing and making the deliberate effort to bring to our conscious awareness our unconscious expectations will be critical. While it is possible to project primarily intentional expectations to our students, it is important to keep somewhere in the back of our minds that we will struggle to promote healthy and functional explicit expectations, if we have a substantial amount of unexamined dysfunctional expectations operating like computer viruses to corrupt our intentional efforts.

 

The number of expectations that could potentially exist in any classroom is countless. If we began to list all the behaviors that we desired from our students, we 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 we 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 we want students to hold. In Chapters 9, 10, and 11 we will examine the process for creating and implementing a formal social contract. While the social contract will include all levels of expectations in principle, in practice it will focus primarily on the formal guiding principles in the class. It will include the basic rules that the class has agreed to follow and the logical consequences for when students choose to violate those rules.  For example, the social contract may include a rule related to being on time, and a consequence for being late. The rule will include an expectation (i.e., there is a value to being on time), but it is further formalized when it is termed a “rule” (e.g., when you are late, then the consequence for violating that rule is that you will lose the opportunity to do __.)

 

In this chapter, we will examine how our largely unwritten expectations are promoted. While the development of the social contract will act in concert with our efforts to promote our classroom expectations in general, we need to take a systematic approach to the development of the countless number of unwritten expectations within the class.

 

 

Chapter Reflection 5-b: I recently heard two teachers talking early in this school year. They were each lamenting that they struggled to get the kind of learning outcomes that they wanted because of some of the misbehavior exhibited by their students. One of the teachers expressed the belief that he did not feel he should have to actively help the student behave better, that “they should be able to do that by now.” The other teacher took the position that part of his job was to support more functional behavior on the part of his students. Which teacher would you guess had fewer behavioral problems as the year progressed? What are your feelings about each teacher’s position?

 

 

The Benefits of Promoting Clear and Purposeful Shared Classroom Expectations

There are a whole host of benefits to intentionally promoting clear and shared classroom expectations. They include those that are more obvious such as:

·         Students know what to expect and they understand the learning tasks better.

·         Things in the class run more smoothly with less confusion.

·         Students have a clearer sense of what it takes to perform.

 

Some benefits are less obvious, such as:


 

4,2,1,3
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter reflection 5-c: Examine an environment in which there is a lot of anger, resentment, and pain-giving. As you examine it more closely, do you find a desire on the part of those involved to create clear expectations? Perhaps, if they are tired of the frustration, but if they have developed a habit of attack and retaliation, you will notice that the expectations are rather vague, and the parties like to keep it that way.  Why do you think this is?

 

 

As teachers, the more deliberate and intentional we are about promoting our classroom expectations, the more effective we will be. Moreover, the expectations that guide the class will be those that are desirable and that lead to the mutual benefit of teacher and student.

 

Intentionally Creating Positive Expectations: Which Strategies Are Most Effective?

As one examines how expectations are intentionally cultivated in a classroom, it is evident that some strategies demonstrate a greater capacity to promote quality behavior than others.  We could say that the most effective intentional strategies would be those that function to do the following:

  1. Promote, in the minds of students, a greater sense of clarity of the expectation.
  2. Promote, in the mind of students, positive associations with the desired behavior implied in the expectation.

 

Using this principle, if we were to evaluate the effectiveness of the most commonly incorporated strategies, according to their ability to create positive expectations, we would observe a substantial variation in effectiveness. An approximation of the effectiveness ratings for each strategy is offered in Figure 5.1.


 

Figure 5.1: Approximate rating of common management practices related to their ability to create clarity of expectations and a positive association with the expected behavior, from most (four stars) to least effective (no stars).

 

Practice

Clarity rating

Affect rating

Overall

What they promote

Related to the management

Effectiveness continuum

Purposeful Action

§  Consistency

§  Follow-through

Positive Recognition

Clarifying Statements/Mantras

Clarifying Questions Expectation Cues

Debriefing

Written Expectations

 

+

 

 

+

+

+

+

+

+

+

 

 

+

N+

N+

N+

+

N

 

****

 

 

****

***

***

***

****

**½

Strategies that do a great deal to create cause and effect clarity and positive associations related to the expectations.

Use promotes movement up the effectiveness continuum

Personal Recognition/Praise

Warnings

Requests

 

N

N+

-

N+

N

N-

*

*

½*

Strategies that do little to promote expectations and create inconsequential or confusing emotional climates.

Use promotes little movement up or down continuum

 

Negative recognitions

Irrational or Negative Actions

Threats and Put Downs

N-

-

-

-

-

-

 

½ *

0

0

Strategies that do very little to promote clarity and do a great deal to create negative associations with the desired behavior.

Use promotes mostly movement down the effectiveness continuum

 

Boundary Setting

Assessing Behavior

NR

NR

NR

NR

 

Strategies that vary greatly depending on how they are used.

 

+          demonstrates high levels of effectiveness in this area

N+        demonstrates some effectiveness

N          is neutral or inconsequential

N-         does a bit more harm than good but has an effect

-           does mostly harm

NR        (no rating) can vary from + to – depending on how they are used

 

Each of these strategies rated in Figure 5.1 is examined in more depth, in the following sections, beginning with the most effective and progressing to the least.

 

Complete Chapter available in Transformative Classroom Management – Jossey Bass/Wiley Press (Shindler, 2010)