Starting a new school year on a positive note with a classroom or group of students is important. It’s important for learning. It’s important for teamwork. It’s important for enjoyment. Let’s just say, it’s important for everything!
There are many things you can do to create a positive environment with students in the first days and weeks of a new school year. One of the most important things you can do is set and reinforce standards of behavior with your students. This is important during a typical in-person back-to-school season. But, if you are beginning this school year partially or fully remote they will be even more important and you may need to re-think a new set of standards.
Having standards of behavior provides a sense of normalcy, fosters positive engagement and accountability, creates a safe and positive culture, eliminates stress and prevents problem behaviors with the students. Standards also allow all students to have a fair and equal opportunity to be seen and heard.
Creating standards of behavior is also beneficial to you. When students realize what is expected of them and the expectations are consistent and fair, they are more likely to build trusting and positive relationships with each other and with you. Standards of behavior also reduces your stress, allows you more time to listen to students and encourage their participation and increases the likelihood you will enjoy your time with them.
Below are some proven tips for developing and maintaining standards of behavior with your students, no matter if you are meeting with them virtually or in-person.
Focus on the word “standards” and not “rules.” When students hear the word, “rules”, they think of everything they can’t or aren’t suppose to do. To them, rules are usually made by an adult and enforced upon them. Rules are made to be challenged. When you ask students what the word, “standards”, means they usually say it is something they should or are expected to do. Standards are something to live up to. The bottom line is…rules sound negative and standards sound positive. (For more insight on this tip, read The Difference a Word Can Make.)
Get student input. Students are more likely to buy into standards of behavior if they have a hand in creating them. One way to do this is to start with a list of what you consider the bare essentials. Then, work together with your students to develop a final set of standards. You can also get your students’ input on the consequences when they don’t live up to their standards.
If you are wondering what standards you should most consider if you are engaging with students in a remote setting, here are a few ideas to help you get started.
Having your students raise their hand in-person is simple. But, getting your attention in a virtual class can be more difficult for them. Consider how you will ask students to indicate they want to share. Some digital tools have a raise hand button you can suggest.
Use established signals to facilitate discussions. For example, ask the students to mute themselves when they aren’t speaking or to give a thumbs up or raise their hand if they want to speak. Again, using the digital tools available with the online platform you use can be helpful.
Think about the group discussions that will take place or the comments your students might make. Remind students that language considered unacceptable in-person will be unacceptable online.
Consider when video cameras should and should not be used. As the teacher, your video should be on at all times so the students can see you and read your body language. Consider whether you will give students the option to turn their video on or off. Some students might feel uncomfortable being on camera or showing their home. If this is the case, encourage them to take advantage of digital backgrounds if it is available with the online platform you use.
Focus on standards for getting along. Have the students create their standards of behavior based on what they need to do to best get along with one another. Having standards that describe how students should treat each other in the most respectful, caring and supportive way will create a more positive environment for everyone. (For more information about this tip, read The Best, the Worst and the OK.)
Make sure the standards are simple, clear and specific. Standards of behavior should always be simple. Simple standards are less likely forgotten. Write them in as few as two to five words. It also makes it quick and simple for you to merely say a word or two to reign in your students and serve as a reminder of the standards.
Don’t have too many standards. It’s hard to remember a long list of standards. Have as few of standards as necessary to maintain order and respect and build a healthy, open learning environment. Typically, five to six standards are sufficient. Try to combine multiple standards that have a similar intention into one simpler standard instead.
Set a positive tone. State standards in a positive way as much as possible. It will help create a welcoming and caring community with the students. Using positive language in standards and in the correction of them also inspires students to choose positive behaviors and communicates your belief in their ability to do so.
Open with them and then use them as reminders. After opening your class or group with a review of the standards two or three times over, bring them back as an occasional reminder, sometimes just verbally and sometimes visually. Posting the standards is a great idea.
Model the standards yourself. Be sure that whatever the standards are the group agrees to that you are modeling them for the students. Remember, your actions speak louder than your words. (For more ideas on how to be a positive role model of standards, check out Reading You Like a Book.)
Communicate the standards of behavior and expectations with parents. If your students are learning remotely from home, keeping parents informed about the standards of behavior is crucial. Establish a personal connection with parents. Start with a phone call, rather than an email, so you can share your expectations and tips for technology use in a conversation with them. It allows both of you to ask questions in real-time, problem solve challenges and form a personal connection with each other. However, a follow-up email to your phone conversation is essential to show that you are willing to help a busy parent remember you and the expectations.
Check in with students regularly. Once your standards are set, it’s important that you check in with your students regularly to see how things are going. Are the standards clear? Are they helping? Do the students feel they are living up to them? Are there any standards they need to work on more? Are there new standards they believe need to be added to the list?
Be flexible. Forming class or group standards early is really important. However, be flexible, especially if you are in a remote learning situation. Adjusting standards or adding new standards to the list at any time is always an option. Practice grace, patience and kindness with your students, but especially, with yourself.
If you are in need of an activity you can facilitate with your students that results in them creating their own standards of behavior, while incorporating many of the suggestions above, then visit How to Establish Standards for Getting Along with Middle and High School Students and How to Create Standards for Getting Along with 4th and 5th Graders.
Both include videos that walk you step-by-step on how to effectively create standards of behaviors with your students.
Was there ever a time when you started a new job, moved into a new community or joined a group for the first time when everyone – except you – knew what was expected of them? Was it hard to feel like you were a part of the community or group? Once you knew what was expected of you, did it become easier for you to fit in or feel like you belonged? The same will be true when your students start the new school year, especially if they are joining a virtual classroom for the first time.
Creating and reinforcing standards of behavior with the students in the early days of the new school year will magnify not only your students’ learning, but their relationships with one another and with you. And, make a challenging time something much more tolerable and even enjoyable – for ALL of you!