Teaching Behavior Expectations

Behavior Expectations and How to Teach Them

Consider the scenario in which a student walks into an English class and discovers that it is the most dreaded of days: graded paper pass-back day. His teacher begins to criticise him as soon as he receives his paper, telling him, “You should have known better than to write your thesis in that manner.” What if the teacher went on to say something like, “This is the third time in a month that this has happened. What do you think I’m going to do with you? “what should you do before sending him to the office for his error?

Students who make scholastic blunders are given additional time to review, relearn, and rethink their knowledge until they have mastered the subject matter completely. The majority of the time, however, when kids fail to satisfy behaviour expectations, we assume they are engaging in intentional disobedience and expel them from the classroom, followed by other disciplinary measures. When we apply our customary answers to behavioural issues to academic issues, it’s clear to observe the contrast between the two situations.

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As a high school teacher, I certainly didn’t consider it necessary to instruct students about appropriate behaviour. In my mind, posting the rules and going over them with the students on the first day of school was sufficient completion of the task. I was mistaken. I found myself frequently returning to my list of posted guidelines when it came time to “review expectations” as a result, even when it didn’t work. Teachers have a variety of techniques in their sleeves when it comes to academic subject. They begin with what students already know and grow from there, employing excellent models, repetition, and innovation to ensure that students retain what they have learned.

What I’m curious about is what would happen if we combined our best instructional approaches with the teaching of behavioural expectations.

Wouldn’t it be better if, instead of viewing kids as wilfully disregarding all of the good manners they’ve been taught, we put in place a procedure to teach our standards for student behaviour using the best practises that are typically designated for academic work? Using our best instructional approaches to approach student conduct standards will assist kids to internalise our expectations more effectively and for a longer period of time.


The following process, along with some initial ideas, will get you started in the correct path, whether you’re working on this as an individual instructor or as part of a larger campus-wide initiative.

Make it crystal clear what you anticipate.
Make a list of memorable ways to teach your students about these standards (be sure to include models).
As a rough estimate, how many times you will need to teach this lesson: To do this, first design an implementation timeline, followed by a set of indicators that indicate when it is time to re-teach this expectation.
Let’s take a look at a problem that may occur on any college or university campus: students who don’t clean up after themselves.

We discovered at the beginning of the school year that kids were not picking up their trash between lunches as frequently as we required them to do. This is something we expected students at a high school to understand, but when we discovered a discrepancy between their actions and our expectations, we decided to take a proactive approach to the problem by following this process.

Having set a goal of having each and every student pick up his or her own garbage after lunch, we assessed how long our custodial crew would actually have to spend cleaning each of the 60 or so table tops in the cafeteria between lunches and instructed students to clear tables at that pace. We were able to film their efforts and share them with you. Fortunately, the outcome was amusing and demonstrated our point: Because the cleaning staff will not be able to pick up trash from every table in time for you to seat at a table that is not covered in trash, we should all pick up our own trash.

Throughout the year, we came back to these reminders on three separate occasions. The beginning of the year, the first week of January, and the week following spring break were chosen as hot places to reinforce our expectations. Students responded in the manner that we had hoped for as a result of our clearly outlined expectations.


If you’re a classroom instructor who’s interested in experimenting with this concept, here are a few questions that can serve as a good starting point for establishing discipline in the classroom:

When pupils receive my signal, what should they do is up to them.
What are the expectations of the teacher when pupils first walk into the classroom?
What are the expectations of the teacher regarding the use of technological devices in the classroom?
What should students do when they return to school after a period of absence?
You might consider preparing lessons to regularly set these expectations at the campus level if you want to take a school-wide approach. Examples of such lessons are:

Arrive to class on time.
Dress in accordance with the dress code.
Eat your meals at the cafeteria (and only in the cafeteria).
When you’re at a sporting event, cheer for your team rather than against the opposition.
If you hear an adult speak to you in the halls, stop and pay attention.


My English III students frequently heard my “you’re a day closer to becoming high school graduates than you are to being middle schoolers — so let’s act like it” speech on the first day of school, which I delivered several times. It was a brief little speech — in fact, you probably only read the first few sentences — but I thought it was an appropriate method to address the issue because, by the time students enter junior year of high school, they should already know how to behave, right?

Although it was difficult for me to acknowledge that it was I who needed to make the significant adjustment, I knew it had to happen eventually. I, as well as my students, were relieved that it worked well.

Teaching behaviour requirements in the manner in which we know children learn best — through modelling and repetition — will assist them in learning your expectations and in assisting you in helping them learn in your classroom.