How to Set Classroom Expectations to Improve Student Behavior


We often hear about the importance of setting high academic expectations for students. But what about behavior?

One of the best ways to help students meet rigorous academic expectations is to first set high expectations for behavior. Why? With clear, consistent classroom expectations:

  • Students know and understand what’s expected of them, which gives them confidence.
  • Students monitor themselves and take more responsibility for their behavior — and their learning.
  • Students spend more time on task and academic learning time increases.
  • Teachers can more easily recognize and motivate positive behaviors.
  • Classroom stress for students and teachers decreases.
  • Students gain a sense of safety and security.
  • The classroom culture and the school culture become more positive overall.

In contrast, in classrooms where behaviors vary day to day or minute to minute, teachers struggle to teach and students often learn less than they should. Think about all the instructional minutes that are stolen by disruptive behaviors. Those missing minutes mean students have less time to focus on and master academic standards. In an environment that’s disorderly or chaotic — or worse, unsafe — students are also less likely to ask questions, engage in classroom discussions, and take academic risks in front of their peers. Further, the problem is compounded when struggling learners miss class time because of discipline referrals or suspensions.

→  Download our PBIS Playbook to learn how to set consistent student behavior expectations

What are Classroom Behavior Expectations?

Behavior expectations are procedures and rules that are taught to students to encourage positive behaviors and prevent problem behaviors. They form important building blocks for a positive school culture.

These expectations can address how students treat each other and the teacher, and how they operate in the classroom. They can also address how students behave outside of the classroom, such as in the cafeteria, playground, quad, library, hallways, restrooms, bus, and more.

Why Setting Consistent Expections is the Key to Success

For maximum benefit, behavior expectations should be consistent from classroom to classroom and teacher to teacher — just like your academic standards.

With consistent expectations, students know what’s expected of them throughout the school day. This allows them to feel more confident, engaged and connected to the school community. It also makes it easier for teachers to recognize positive behaviors, and to correct problem behaviors to keep small problems small.

Further, for students who may have difficult home lives, this consistency and routine can provide the structure and stability they need and crave. In addition, it’s particularly helpful with students who like to test the boundaries or “divide and conquer” staff members. If all staff members are on the same page — consistently communicating and reinforcing established behavior expectations school-wide — students quickly realize there’s no point to pushing the limits because the consequences are always the same.

Another benefit is that consistent expectations can help diffuse emotionally heated situations. Since the teacher and the student (and parent) are already aware of the behavior expectation, they can swiftly move to address the problem behavior, instead of arguing over what the student did wrong.

→  Download our PBIS Playbook to get industry insights on how to set consistent student behavior expectations

5 Tips to Help Improve and Set Behavior Expectations

Here are 5 quick tips to establish consistent behavior expectations in your school or district:

1. Define your behavior expectations, along with rewards and consequences.

Invite key stakeholders from across your school to create your behavior expectations. Each desired behavior should be observable, measurable, objective and specific. Defining behaviors in this way also makes it much easier to model them for students, so they can see concrete examples of what they’re expected to do.

Next, establish a reward system for recognizing students who achieve these expectations, and establish consequences for expectations that are not met. Like the expectations, the rewards and consequences should be age-appropriate and consistent.

Finally, share these expectations and get buy-in from all teachers and staff members to ensure they’ll be implemented school-wide.

2. Clearly communicate your behavior expectations to students — and parents.  

One way to communicate consistent behavior expectations to students and parents is to put them in writing.

  • Create a handout, and distribute it to all students and parents.
  • Post the expectations on classroom walls or other prominent places so students can refer to them as often as needed. Even better, post the expectations in or near the area where the targeted behaviors are expected to take place (e.g. posting behavior expectations for the cafeteria on the cafeteria wall).
  • Post the expectations on the school website.
  • Include the expectations in the school handbook.

Then, read the expectations aloud to students. Explain what each expectation means, and why these are necessary and beneficial to everyone.

3. Show students what is meant by each expectation. Model and practice it.

To ensure students understand the behavior expectations, show them what they look like in action. Demonstrate what it looks like when a student is meeting the expectation.

4. Track student behaviors daily, and apply rewards and consequences consistently and equitably.

With Kickboard, you can easily collect, access, analyze, share and act on behavioral data in real-time. With behavior management tools such as one-click behavior tracking, you can easily track the positive behaviors that make up your ideal school culture, as well as inappropriate or negative behaviors that need improvement. In addition, you can motivate positive behaviors with goal-based incentives or rewards — such as behavior points, scholar dollars, student paychecks, or school store rewards — which are automatically tracked in Kickboard.

Teachers can help each other too, with one-click tools for behavior-specific notes, teacher-to-teacher comments, sharable dashboards, and room for reflection on student reports.

5. Review and reinforce these expectations throughout the year.

This keeps the behavior expectations top-of-mind for students and staff — and emphasizes how important they are to the culture of the entire school.

Clear, consistent behavior expectations, combined with real-time data tracking, are key components to building a safe, happy school where students and staff thrive. When students feel confident, respected, cared for and supported, disruptions and discipline incidents decline, learning increases, and academic achievement rises.

→  Download our PBIS Playbook to get industry insights on how to set consistent student behavior expectations