Setting and Maintaining High Behavioral Standards

III. Setting and Maintaining High Behavioral Standards: In order for a classroom to be a place of intentional learning, you must have a strong behavioral environment.  All students deserve the right to learn in your classroom. 

*** These techniques do not require that you raise your voice, or even be strict.  They require that you set expectations and maintain them.  You can adapt them to your own style and personality.***


1. 100%

“There is one suitable percentage of student following a direction given in your classroom: 100 percent.  If you don’t achieve this, you make your authority subject to interpretation, situation, and motivation.  Students have cause to ask themselves: ‘Did she mean that?  For everyone? Do I feel like going along with her today?’” (Lemov 167)

 This is not about power, it is about a standard.  The way to do this is with a WARM, POSITIVE, crisp and orderly tone.  There is a positive culture of compliance.

Notice what your students do when you give instructions.  Notice who is following along and who is not.

If you start to speak when the room is quiet enough, you are setting a standard of quiet enough.  Students will see compliance as an option. 

To achieve 100% compliance, use the least invasive form of intervention.  Generally you want to stay as close to the top of this list as possible.  But sometimes you will need the bottom.  You don’t have to go through each one to get to the bottom.  Use whichever one you need to be successful at that moment. 

  • Non-verbal intervention- gesture to or eye contact with an off task student while you continue the lesson.  This way you don’t waste time and interrupt your own lesson, and don’t embarrass the student.
  • Positive group correction- Quick verbal reminder to the group about what students should be doing.  “We are following along in our books”  “We are looking at Sarah as she speaks.”
  • Anonymous individual correction- We need two people.  Please check yourselves and make sure you’ve got your eyes on the speaker.
  • Private individual correction- When and if you have to name names, do it privately and quietly.  Walk by the students desk, lean down and use a quiet voice.  Tell the student quickly and calmly what to do and then go back to your lesson.  If you need to return to that student you may have to ask the student to take a break, step out of the room, or present a consequence.  All of these should also be done as quietly as possible. 
  • Lightening-quick public correction- you may at times have to correct individual students at a public moment.  You want to limit the time the student is ‘on-stage’ for something negative.  Focus on telling the student what to do right, then quickly acknowledge them when they change the behavior, rather than scolding them or explaining what they did wrong.  “Sarah, I need your eyes on me.  Thank you Sarah, much better.”

Be firm and calm.  “I need your eyes on me so that you can learn” is more effective than “When I ask you to do something you do it”.  Compliance is about a successful learning community, not about a teacher’s control. 

 2. What TO Do

Often non-compliance is not caused by defiance, but by incompetence.  It is REALLY important to make the distinction.  Sometimes a student misunderstood the instructions, doesn’t know how to follow it, or may just be easily distracted.  The same goes for instructions in your academic assignments, not just behavioral expectations.

 Telling students what to do rather than what not to do is often more effective.  They may not know what to do or how to do it and reminding them what not to do does not respond to that challenge. 

Directions should be:

  • Specific- Focus on manageable and precisely described actions that students can take.  Instead of asking a student to pay attention, I could say- put down your pencil and keep your eyes on me. 
  • Concrete- Involve clear actionable tasks that a student knows how to do.  These should be physical, simple and commonplace.  There is no grey area and no prior knowledge required for follow through.
  • Sequential- A sequence of specific concrete actions. 
  • Observable- Things I can watch my students do.  If I say pay attention, I can’t know if the student did what I asked, and they may respond- I was paying attention.  If say, keep your chair on the ground, put your pencil down, and your eyes on me, I can observe the response. 

What to do allows you to make a distinction between incompetence and defiance by making your instructions specific enough that they can’t be deliberately misinterpreted and helpful enough that they explain away any grey areas.  I can’t give a consequence for a student who doesn’t understand what I asked him to do. 

 3. Strong Voice

There are some teachers that have strong voice, and others that need to be slightly more intentional about it. 

Principles of Strong Voice:

  • Economy of language-  fewer words are stronger than more.  This shows that you are prepared and know your purpose.  Being chatty and verbose signals nervousness and indecision.  Make one point rather than five.  Be clear and crisp when you need to be, then stop talking. 
  • Do Not Talk Over- Wait until there is no talking or rustling before speaking.  Your words, if you need to say them are the most important thing in the room and everyone has a responsibility to hear them.  Sometimes you need to start, and stop in the middle in order to get the students attention. 
  • Do Not Engage- Do not let students distract with comments and concerns that are not related to the topic at hand (unless of course it can not wait).
  • Body language- Look directly at student and get close to them if you are giving them specific instructions.  When you give instructions, stop moving and doing other things so the students can just focus on what you are saying.
  • Quiet Power- When you get nervous that students will not follow what you are doing, your instincts can be to talk louder and faster.  You then show that you are nervous and out of control.  Getting slower and quieter can actually help you gain control.