Article: Setting Behaviour Expectations with Clarity and Consistency

Hooray! You’ve survived your first week with your new class, well done!

There’s so much to think about at the start of the school year – getting to know your new students, establishing routines, getting comfortable in a new classroom, making a good impression on parents. We thought it was worth checking in to make sure you’ve included ‘setting behaviour expectations’ on your list. It’s one of those things that is SO worth an extra bit of attention at the start and could mean a far easier rest of the year if you do.

At Illume Learning we support lots of teachers to understand their student’s behaviour and implement support strategies. Something I find myself consistently reminding people is that we can’t expect children to be mind readers. Sounds simple enough but often it’s not until someone asks us to define an expectation that we realise it’s blurry even to us. Makes it pretty tough for our student if we don’t even know exactly what we mean, right? This means that, for me, the first step in establishing any kind of behaviour support our first step is questioning ourselves and setting some rules in our own mind.
Have you defined:
• What good ‘sitting on the carpet’, ‘sitting at your desk’ and ‘lining up’ all look like in practical terms?
• What you want your student to do when they finish a task?
• What your student should do to indicate they need help or to go to the toilet?
Take some time to think these things through and write out your ‘rules’. Rules or instructions should be short, simple and explicit. You don’t want to leave any room for interpretation or that’s exactly what will happen! Make sure you use positive statements about the behaviour that is expected rather than the one you don’t want:
Examples of behaviour rules in positive language

Then it’s time to define the strategy you will use for teaching these expectations:

Make it visual

Visual supports are a must. If you stick around, you’ll learn that we bang on about visual supports a LOT. There’s good reason for it though. There’s so much research suggesting our students with intellectual disability find learning from looking much easier than learning from listening. It’s our aim to add as much visual ‘back up’ as we can to anything we’re teaching a student with intellectual disability. The kind of visual supports you might use for teaching behaviour rules can be really simple – stop signs, posters reminding them of the rules (eg. An example of what ‘sitting nicely on the carpet’ looks like), or a ‘help please’ visual support for them to display when they want assistance. Here’s your chance to get creative!

Write a social story

Social stories are a brilliant way to teach new routines and rules. They work with our student’s strength of visual memory and can be personalised to capture student attention and provide meaning. We love using photos of the student and their environment – a super easy way to do this is to build your social story in an iPad app such as Pictello. It's an awesome app by the people who developed Proloquo2go that allows you to capture the image straight on the device, paste it into the app, type in your text and, if you want to be really fancy, record a voice over for each page. This means our student can independently access the social story which is particularly helpful in the beginning stages when we want them to be accessing it frequently.

Reward positive behaviour

If we’re teaching a student our expectations, it’s important that they know when they’ve got it right. So, a plan around rewarding positive behaviour is another essential part of this process. For some students, verbal praise and you doing a happy dance will be just the motivation they need. Others may require a more formal token economy system that reinforces the rules and the reward using visual supports.

Consistency is key!

The most important key to all of this is consistency. If it’s clear that we have the same expectations and will respond in the same way every time we make it so much easier for our student to understand and remember. Using a reward chart/token economy? Make sure you keep the tokens in your pocket so you have them on hand every time. Instructed your student to put their hand up for help? Make sure you’re keeping an eye out for it so they’re not being ignored. Make sure you’ve communicated your plans with anyone else who may be involved in supporting the student too. This could be a teacher aide, music teacher, PE teacher, SEP teacher or parent. If you’re all providing the same instruction and feedback, you’ll be on track in no time.
We’ll be looking more at some of the visual supports I’ve mentioned in posts over the next few weeks so keep an eye out for lots of ideas and maybe even a freebie or two!
Do you have a must-do tip for establishing behaviour expectations at the start of the school year? We’d love to hear them! Just comment below 