Classroom expectations – theirs or mine?

At the start of each year, a common discussion topic among teachers is ‘What do you do in the first lesson with your classes?’. Old school teachers may reply “Be tough, don’t smile until Easter”, “Put them in a seating plan, get them working hard to set a good work ethic” etc etc.

Well, this year, for the first time in a long time, I’d never taught any of the students in three of my five classes. Two were year 9 and one was a year 7 class. For year 7, that’s par for the course, but for the two Year 9 classes, their only knowledge or experience of me as a teacher will predominantly have come from others – either siblings or friends – evidenced by comments such as ‘don’t you give lots of detentions for such and such’, ‘I heard you give lots of homework, is that true’. So my first class had greater significance than ever before. Rather than set out my class rules/expectations, our first lessons were focused on students developing/setting the expectations, giving them some ownership over the culture we are to develop int he classroom.

Our first activity was to work in small groups and discuss what they thought were reasonable expectations for each of them in this class. This was followed by a class discussion and developing a set of expectations for behaviour and work ethic that would set the standard for the year.

Here’s what they came up with:

Student Expectations

  • Do your best. Work to the best of  your ability at all times.
  • Listen when someone else is talking
  • Treat your classmates with respect (this probably covers number 2 anyway)
  • Submit or complete work on time
  • Ask Questions when you don’t understand something
  • Come to class with everything you need

The only thing I had to add was:

  • Try new things and expect to make mistakes.

I thought this last one was important to add to get the students thinking about the role of mistakes in learning and because I want to try and foster an atmosphere  where they aren’t afraid to make mistakes. Hopefully, this will help them take more risks in their learning and experiment more with their projects and tasks.

The second part of the lesson was to determine what were realistic expectations of the teacher. Again, students had time to brainstorm their thoughts and then report back to the whole class. This is where the activity got interesting and required some light hearted negotiation. Students’ suggestions included ‘Give no homework’, ‘Don’t give detentions’. The most interesting and provocative though was “You need toteachus”. My response was “I can’t guarantete you that I’ll teach you as much as you want” This really got them going. “You have to teach us, that’s your job”, “that’s what our parents pay fees for” (we are a private school). I countered that my job isn’t to teach them, but to help them learn. Well, this seemed to spin a few heads as their were lots of confused looks in the room. It’s the first time that I’ve ever had that discussion with junior years and proved that it is a really worthwhile task to do with your class. Let them set the expectations and negotiate with them how the classroom will work to provide a positive learning environment.

Here is the final teacher expectations:

  • Have realistic work load expectations and time frames.
  • Treat students with respect
  • Encourage students in what they do
  • Give meaningful feedback on your work (this was my addition)
  • Listen to students’ ideas

So, a few final thoughts, who sets the expectations in your classroom? Do students have a voice in their learning environment? Will you be teaching the students, or helping them to learn.