Improved Student Behavior:
Step by Step

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Step 1 Form a team and define expectations

We can prevent problem behavior by teaching appropriate behavior. We organize and structure the classroom and the school so that students know how to succeed. Appropriate behavior is typically broken down into expectations, rules and procedures. This approach is foundational to Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), which is widely advocated as the new direction in student behavior (see pbis.org).

Start by getting organized for success.

Form a team

You're making a culture change in the school. You'll need a team to do it and support of the administration. The team should be representative of the school including grade level teachers, specialists, paraprofessionals, parents, special educators and counselors.


In order to foster appropriate behavior in school, we start with a small set of expectations of how students ought to behave. We want to keep the set small so they can be easy to remember. Select no more than five expectations. The expectations should be stated positively to emphasize how students should behave rather than the negative, things which students should not do.

The KIPP schools use two primary expectations: Work Hard. Be Kind. Note that those two expectations can arguably cover both the academic issues and the social/behavior issues.

An even shorter "set" of expectations, a set of one, was suggested in Teaching with Love & Logic by Jim Fay and David Funk. The book describes a teacher stating her one expectation and her one consequence.

Expectation: You can solve a problem any way you want, provided it doesn’t cause a problem for anyone else…The only problem is that I’m a person in the class just like you, so we have to consider what would be a problem for me as well.

Consequence: I don’t expect you to break the rules. But if that does happen, I’ll do something.
Is "something" too vague? What’s really important is not that students know the exact consequences of misbehavior or that the consequence is the same every time. More important is that students know that there will be consequences and that the teacher will be consistent, doing something consistently.

Most schools go into a bit more detail. The small set of expectations (3 to 5) typically are selected from statements like these:

  • Be respectful
  • Respect yourself
  • Respect others
  • Respect property
  • Respect relationships
  • Respect responsibilities
  • Be safe
  • Be responsible
  • Be ready
  • Be prepared
  • Be involved
  • Be kind
  • Be patient
  • Value integrity


  • Be determined
  • Strive for excellence
  • Show compassion
  • Effort
  • Show courage
  • Persevere
  • Show leadership
  • Show caring
  • Take pride
  • Have a positive attitude
  • Make wise choices
  • Show self-control
  • Stay on task


These and other behaviors are desirable but there are clearly too many for a student to keep in mind. The Boy Scouts have a famous shorter list of desirable character traits that have been used for a long time. A scout is:

  • Trustworthy
  • Loyal
  • Helpful
  • Friendly
  • Courteous
  • Kind


  • Obedient
  • Cheerful
  • Thrifty
  • Brave
  • Clean
  • Reverent


But again, the list is too long to be easily remembered. Pick 3 to 5 expectations. A typical set is

  • Be safe
  • Be responsible
  • Be respectful


If you’re creating a set of schoolwide expectations, circulate your list and look for at least 80% acceptance among the faculty. It’s important to get a high level of consensus for schoolwide expectations because we are looking for consistency in expectations throughout the school.

These expectations will be taught to the students as the first proactive step toward desired behavior in school. But of course, 3 to 5 expectations to cover everything that happens in school is not very specific. We get more specific with rules.


<< Overview Step 2 Defining rules and the rules matrix >>