Behavioral Expectations for Early Childhood Classrooms
This article originally appeared in START Connecting in February 2022.
What if we told you there is a universal strategy that is beneficial for all children in an early childhood setting that is relatively simple to implement and we have a set of materials available to get started? This approach has plenty of research to support its effectiveness, and by using this approach, children will learn routines and rules that will follow them into their school years. If you are interested in learning more, read on.
First, let’s consider a scenario. Imagine you are part of an exchange program and you enter a community with a different culture from the one you live in and you are not able to speak the language of that culture. If there are no clear expectations or rules and people behave in an inconsistent way, sometimes pleased with your behavior and sometimes scolding, you may become confused and anxious. Subsequently, you might not want to be in that community and you are certainly not going to learn as effectively.
Now imagine entering that community where the expectations are posted telling you what to do, and you are taught those expectations with prompts and encouragement. When you follow the expectations, you are acknowledged with smiles, praise, and positive consequences. And when you violate the expectations, you are provided with a reminder, a visual support, another opportunity to learn, and a chance to try again. Every day would be filled with “aha” moments where you begin to understand what to do, and not do. You might enjoy being in that new community and thus better prepared to learn.
We can readily translate this example to a young child entering an early childhood setting. Each child walks in the door with a different learning history and understanding of what it means to be in a classroom. We can ease children into this new experience by establishing behavioral expectations across all settings where children learn and interact. This creates a foundation of predictability and consistency to make the learning environment a positive place for children and staff.
Our START-ism “Effective for all students, essential for some” applies here. Behavioral expectations create a culture that benefits all children. However, we know some children entering the early childhood setting need more assistance to learn routines, understand expectations, and successfully develop independence. This is certainly true for many children with autism. For them, expectations are essential.
To get started, gather your team and use the materials provided. If you are in a classroom, use the Classroom Expectations instructions and materials along with the Expectations Poster Templates to get started in your classroom. If you work in an early childhood building or program, you can use the Program Expectations instructions and materials along with the Expectations Poster Templates to set up program-wide expectations so there is consistency across classrooms. If you are ambitious, use both sets of materials to set up program-wide and classroom expectations throughout your building or district.
If this seems daunting in the face of everything you are doing right now, take one step. Click the links below and look at the materials. If they are intriguing, share them with your team. If the team gets excited, start a conversation about expectations. Once you have momentum, set up a meeting and put your ideas into the templates provided.
You may be surprised how quickly you can establish your expectations. Test drive them in your classroom, refine them, post them, and start training staff and teaching children. Next, do your magic as educators and acknowledge when students and staff meet expectations and provide gentle guidance and re-teaching when expectations are not met. Just like that, expectations are part of your building and classroom culture. The effort will be worth it.
Please review the resources below including an example BST training protocol, an implementation template, graphics, and articles.
Program/Building Expectations for Early Childhood
Program Expectations Matrix Development Instructions and Template
Program Expectations Matrix Template and Examples
Poster Templates for Early Childhood
Expectations Poster Templates