Search form

Set Positive Behavior Expectations

EducationWorld is pleased to present these professional development tips shared by Linda Dusenbury, Ph.D., a researcher and expert in evidence-based prevention strategies designed to promote student competencies and motivation, and to create safe and nurturing classrooms and schools.

These tips are based in part on "Best Practices in Classroom Management," a training DVD that Dr. Dusenbury helped develop.

The Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) framework emphasizes the importance of establishing clear ground rules in the classroom. We also know that highly effective teachers involve students in the process of developing guidelines for their class behavior. In this article, I explain how students' involvement in rule-setting can make the evidence-based PBIS model even more powerful.

The rules that get developed may differ from class to class, but the process is the same. Because students help develop the rules, they own them. When students understand that the rules are their statements about what they expect of each other—not just what their teacher expects of them—they become more courteous, and they are more ready to participate in learning together. 

Rules need to be simple and positive: how we expect each other to act, rather than rules about “no.” Kids do a lot better when it’s clear how they’re expected to behave, rather than how not to behave. And rules should always be easy to follow.

Here are simple steps for developing class rules:

  1. As part of a class discussion, have the students create the list of rules for how they think they should treat each other and behave during class. The teacher might ask “What’s okay and not okay to do in class?” or “What do we need to do, to work well together in class?”
  2. Rules should be simple (no more than five to seven words).
  3. Rules should be few (seven to nine rules are plenty, fewer is better).
  4. Rules should be positive statements of how students expect each other to act (for example, “Walk in the hallway,” rather than “No running”;  “Raise your hand to speak,” rather than “No shouting out”; “Keep your hands to yourself,” rather than “Don’t touch other people”; “Chew gum outside of school,” rather than “No chewing gum”; “Keep cell phones turned off” or “Leave cell phones at home,” rather than “No cell phones”; and “Remain in your seat,” rather than “No walking around”). When students suggest a negative rule, help them reframe it to a positive one.
  5. Whenever possible, get students to suggest the rules themselves. Every teacher will have some rules they want to make sure to have on the list, such as "raise your hand if you want to speak” and “listen politely.” But start by letting the students create the list themselves. As much as possible, get students to say the rule before you have to say it, so that they feel it comes from them. When necessary, ask leading questions (for example, “What should we do if we want to speak or ask a question?”)

PBIS often gives students three general rules: Be safe, be respectful, and be responsible. In every area of the school, students are taught more specific rules and expectations for being safe, being respectful and being responsible: for example, in the cafeteria, in the hallways, in the bus area, and in the media center. The rules in PBIS are usually developed by the adults in the school. But it is more engaging to students, and they are more likely to take ownership for the rules, if they are involved in the process of developing them.

One way to involve students in making rules within the context of PBIS is to allow classroom teachers to use the three overarching rules (be safe, be respectful, be responsible) to develop all the rules for their classroom with their students. At the beginning of the year, teachers might introduce kids to the three rules, and then work together with their classes to develop rules for being safe, being respectful, and being responsible in class.

For example, being safe might mean “Keep hands to ourselves,” “Use objects appropriately,” and “Keep book bags and other objects out of the way so that other people don’t trip.” Being responsible might mean “Have books, pencils and paper when we come to class,” “Be ready to begin work when the bell rings,” or “Have our homework completed.” It could also mean “Ask questions if we don’t understand.”  Being respectful might mean “Raise your hand if you want to speak,” and “Listen politely when others are speaking.”

The bottom line is this: When students help create the rules, it is a lot easier to get them to follow the rules.


About Dr. Dusenbury

A nationally recognized expert in evidence-based prevention strategies designed to promote student competencies and motivation, and to create safe and nurturing classrooms and schools, Dr. Linda Dusenbury founded Bridging the Gap Professional Development Services, LLC, where researchers and educators work together to help schools achieve their goals. 

Dr. Dusenbury has worked as a Senior Research Scientist with The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), Tanglewood Research, Inc., Drug Strategies, and numerous other organizations focused on improving the lives of young people. She has produced award-winning videos and online courses, and published more than 75 professional articles and chapters focused on effective strategies to promote student competence and prevent problem behaviors.

Education World
Copyright © 2012 Education World