back to school, management, new teachers

Back to School: Setting Expectations


No matter how versed you are in your content area and pedagogy, one of the most important things of the true art of teaching is having the ability to maintain control over a group of people. I don’t mean this in a messiah-like or Jim Jones sort of way, but in the way that a shepherd can keep his flock in order. In education terms, I’m talking about classroom management.

In all my years of teaching, I confess that this is probably the weakest aspect of my craft. I’m definitely no artist when it comes to managing the masses. My particular problem was that I was a softie until things got too out of control and then I became Godzilla. I definitely don’t like releasing the Kraken, so I resorted to research and sought counsel from the some of the most gifted artists in this area.

Early in my career, a wise principal suggested I sit down with the kids and ask them what they think a successful should look like. From there we crafted a list of RULES and slapped it on the wall. When someone deviated from the rule, he was immediately busted and some sort of PUNISHMENT was enacted. The funny thing about the kids’ list was that it was a lot more draconian than any list of expectations I had ever seen. It was almost exclusively constructed of “DO NOT” statements that sounded like a school marm’s version of the Ten Commandments.

I started suggesting that we construct statements that are more positive sounding. I demonstrated with a sentence that showed how certain behaviors should look instead of what they should NOT look like. My example was: “Eyes and ears focused on whoever is speaking.”

When I frame this exercise, I don’t even like using the word “rules.” I prefer “expectations” or “procedures.” Heck, this year I might even entitle it “How We Roll.” The point is: keep it positive.

Gather your students together on one of the first days and do ask them what a successful classroom looks like. Write down what the students say and synthesize this list into a manageable document that can be posted for them all to see and refer to. Try to keep it simple. Craft your expectations so that everyone can succeed.


Picture credit: “Le Poulpe Colossal,” Pierre Dénys de Montfort, 1801.