Teach Expectations Just As You Would Teach Any Academic Skill

Ronald C. Martella, Ph.D., BCBA-D and Nancy Marchand-Martella, Ph.D., BCBA-D

Classroom management consistently ranks as a primary concern of teachers and is often the number one reason that they leave the profession. Unfortunately, teachers often graduate from teacher preparation programs with limited classroom management knowledge and feel the most unprepared when it comes to tackling this difficult aspect of their job. Classroom management is clearly a complex issue and one that cannot be solved through one course that overviews basic management considerations such as proximity control and “withitness.” We have to ramp up our efforts to provide careful classroom management training within a multi-tier system of supports (MTSS) that focuses on the provision of academic and behavioral support to prevent behavioral issues from occurring in the first place (see PBIS, 2018 for more details). This system provides increasingly more strategic and intensive supports (Tiers 1 through 3 or 4) when students require it based on their presenting behaviors.

We do know the majority of students (i.e., 80–90%) will respond positively to Tier I support systems that include school-wide and classroom management structures such as the teaching of expectations, frequent positive and corrective feedback, and effective instructional practices. Approximately 5–10% of students will need additional Tier II behavior management support systems that supplement Tier I supports. Finally, a small but important percentage of students (i.e., 1–5%) will require specialized, individual supports at the Tier III level. Again, these students still participate in Tier I support systems to enhance the effectiveness of more intensive management procedures.

We can consider Tier I supports similar to obtaining a flu shot. When we are administered the flu shot, the vast majority of us do not get the flu. However, there is still a small percentage of individuals who will get a minor case of the flu that requires supplemental treatments like pain relievers and rest. An even smaller percentage of us will develop a major case of the flu requiring a more focused medical treatment. However, in all cases, the immunization may have reduced the severity of the flu if it is still contracted. Behavior management can be thought of in the same way. Tier I supports are an immunization against behavior problems, although not a perfect one. A key aspect of Tier I supports is the establishment and teaching of expectations. Every student should be exposed to these supports.

Much of our behavior problems can be prevented if we develop expectations, explicitly teach them, and make sure to sustain them through reinforcing expectation following, and appropriately correcting violations. Teachers should consider teaching appropriate school and classroom behavior the same as the teaching of academic skills. Marchand-Martella, Martella, and Lambert (2015) outlined this approach with regard to guided reading instruction: before guided reading instruction (e.g., developing and teaching expectations), during guided reading instruction (e.g., praising correct responding and correcting errors appropriately), and after guiding reading instruction (e.g., reviewing expectations as needed). Weiss (2013) outlined similar procedures for small group instruction. We should encourage teachers to think of the teaching of behaviors and academic skills as the same process. Teachers can start the school year off right by teaching expectations.

Dr. Nancy Marchand-Martella is Dean of the College of Education at Purdue University. She has more than 30 years of experience working with at-risk populations and more than 180 professional publications credited to her name. She is a McGraw-Hill author of Lesson Connections and Core Lesson Connections and adolescent literacy program Read to Achieve. She is also co-author of the digital, print, and project-based FLEX Literacy. Her research area is effective instructional strategies and academic programs with a focus on MTSS (Multi-Tiered Systems of Support).

Dr. Ronald Martella is a professor in the Department of Educational Studies at Purdue University teaching classes in special education and applied behavior analysis. He has more than 30 years of experience working with at-risk populations and more than 170 professional publications credited to his name. He is a McGraw-Hill author of Lesson Connections and Core Lesson Connections and adolescent literacy program Read to Achieve. He is also co-author of the digital, print, and project-based FLEX Literacy. His research area is behavior management/positive behavior support with a focus on MTSS (Multi-Tiered Systems of Support).


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