How can teachers help young children learn expected behaviors?
Page 2: Understanding Behavior Expectations and Rules
For most young children—that is, those ages three to five—school is a complex and novel setting. Educators should not simply assume that young children will intuitively understand the expectations of this new environment. Rather, early childhood teachers need to be prepared to support and promote appropriate behavior. When children understand what is expected of them, they are more likely to display appropriate behavior. Thus, it is important for teachers to establish behavior expectations and rules as part of the overall classroom behavior management system. Behavior expectations and rules are important for young children because they explicitly describe how to behave.
Sample Behavior Expectations
- Be safe
- Be responsible
- Be respectful
Although the terms behavior expectations and rules are often used interchangeably, they actually refer to different things. Behavior expectations can be defined as broad goals for behavior or the general ways that teachers would like children to act. They serve as guidelines for behavior and apply to all children across all settings. In addition, behavior expectations apply to the adults in these settings.
Ideally, behavior expectations are developed for the entire school or center and are used as a framework for helping teachers to establish rules and provide guidance to children. Because behavior expectations are often broad concepts and somewhat abstract for very young children, teachers should create rules to help clarify their meaning as they are applied within specific activities and contexts. Teachers who work in centers where such expectations are not in place can still establish rules and expectations to guide children’s behavior.
By contrast, rules define the appropriate behaviors that educators want children to demonstrate. These behaviors should be concrete, observable, and measurable. Rules might vary depending on the setting (e.g., classroom, lunchroom, outside). Teachers can use a matrix to specify the explicit rules that reflect each behavior expectation. A matrix can be used to maintain continuity across settings when appropriate and to clarify for children how behavior expectations will vary in different settings. For example, consider how the expectation “Be safe” can be defined in various settings. In the classroom and in the hallway, “Be safe” translates into the rule “Use walking feet.” However, on the playground, “Use walking feet” is not a requirement; instead, “Sit on bikes, slide, and swings” is a more appropriate rule.
The matrix below illustrates how some behavior expectations can be translated into rules for the classroom, playground, and hallway.
|Behavior Expectation||Classroom Rules||Playground Rules||Hallway Rules|
Listen as Amanda Peirick and Mary Louise Hemmeter discuss the differences between behavior expectations and classroom rules. Mary Louise Hemmeter further explains how establishing behavior expectations and rules can help prevent problem behaviors before they happen.
Amanda Peirick, MEd
Lead Teacher, Susan Gray School
ML Hemmeter, PhD
Professor, Special Education
Co-Faculty Director of the Susan Gray School for Children
Transcript: Amanda Peirick, MEd
When I think about behavior expectations, I think about these sort of broad or general goals that we have. These are things that really transcend every activity that we’re doing throughout the school environment. So it’s things like being respectful, being responsible, being safe. One of the ones we have at our school is being a team player. There’s these broad concepts that organize what positive behaviors we want to have. When I think about rules, I think about specific behaviors that fall under these things. At the school I work, our whole school has these expectations, and then I sat down with my kids and I thought about, all right, responsible doesn’t really feel very meaningful for them. What can we do to teach them what being responsible looks like in our classroom? We came up with some more specific rules, like use your walking feet, use your quiet voice, or your nice words, use your gentle touches. Those were our classroom rules, and so they had really concrete images of what it meant to be a team player, to be safe in the school environment.
I think that the benefit of having a classroom where these rules and expectations are pervasive throughout everything you do is that kids know what to expect. They know what they’re supposed to be doing. More often than not, when you give kids the chance to do what they’re supposed to be doing, do what you’ve asked them to do, what positive behaviors you’ve told them to do, they’re going to choose to do that rather than something that is a more challenging behavior. Creating these environments really just helps kids know what to do and what to expect.
Transcript: ML Hemmeter, PhD
Generally, we think expectations are broader statements about what we want children to do. They might be something like: Be safe, be a team player, be a friend, be kind, be responsible, be respectful. But when you think about three, four, and five-years-olds who aren’t going to know what it means to be safe, be respectful, be responsible, the rules are more specific behaviors that would be tied to those expectations. So if we had an expectation that would “be responsible,” some of the rules might be “clean up your toys after you play with them” and that way to be responsible. Or if one of your expectations is to “be a team player” then one of the rules might be “we help our friends.” If your expectation is to “be safe” then we might say “we clean up our toys so children don’t trip on them.” The rules are really the specific behaviors that would be associated with the more broad general statement, which is the expectation.
For Your Information
It is important for teachers to recognize the role that culture plays in behavior when they establish classroom expectations. For instance:
- The acceptability of behavior is often culturally determined. Behaviors such as talking while another is talking, calling out in response to a question, making eye contact, and many other behaviors are heavily influenced by culture.
- When there is a mismatch between the culture of a child and the culture of the teacher, the teacher might perceive the child’s behavior as challenging.
- Expectations and rules can help children to crack the code about the different ways to behave in different settings.
- It is critical to focus on respect and relationships with all children. Adults should monitor their own behavior to make sure they are responding to children fairly and consistently.
Revisit Mrs. Rodriquez's Classroom
Mrs. Rodriquez has never really thought about trying to align her classroom rules with the behavior expectations of her school. She likes the idea of using the school-wide behavior expectations (“We are safe,” “We are team members,” and “We are respectful”) as a framework for developing rules for her classroom and other areas of the school. She wonders how she can do that and whether it will make a difference in how her children follow the classroom rules.