Teachers’ expectations have been shown to impact pupil outcomes. For example, Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968) told teachers that certain pupils had been identified as ‘growth spurters’ who would therefore make additional progress that year. End-of-year test results showed that these children made the most progress, despite the designation of pupils as growth spurters being completely false. This shows that for effective learning to take place teachers must have high expectations for both the behaviour and the academic achievements of all pupils.
High behavioural expectations can be demonstrated by explicitly teaching behavioural expectations, including wanted and unwanted behaviour, by identifying and challenging all behaviour that does not meet expectations (including pupils shouting out, not listening and not paying attention) and by using acknowledgements rather than praise when expectations are met (in order not to lower expectations through excessive praise).
High academic expectations come from covering challenging material, setting challenging tasks that require pupils to struggle and think hard, and asking challenging questions (such as questions on complex aspects of topics, higher order questions and those that require longer responses). Tasks and materials should not be changed for ‘weaker’ pupils, but scaffolding should be used instead to ensure all pupils can access the material and complete the tasks. Finally, teachers can show high academic expectations of all pupils through utilising techniques that ensure all pupils are cognitively active. This may include cold calling, using wait time to ensure all pupils can answer questions in depth, independent practice, and whole-class response systems such as mini whiteboards.
Positive teacher–pupil relationships may prevent poor behaviour and disengagement. To develop positive relationships with pupils, it is imperative that teachers show respect for pupils’ culture, beliefs and needs. Teachers should convey warmth – for example, by greeting pupils positively and showing they care about and are interested in pupils as individuals. Teachers should avoid negative behaviours such as sarcasm, shouting and humiliation, and should use positive statements and praise where appropriate.
Attention is the gateway to working memory and is therefore crucial to learning. Pupils are able to think about and remember new content only if they first pay attention to it. However, we are able to pay attention to only a limited number of stimuli at any one time. Therefore, teachers may take the following steps to ensure and guide pupil attention:
- Reducing distractions from mobile phones and other devices, overly busy displays and overly noisy classroom environments.
- Preventing mind-wandering through chunking, rehearsal opportunities and questioning.
- Giving pupils incentives to pay attention through cold calling, whole-class response systems and retrieval practice.
- Developing pupils’ curiosity – for example, through big questions, real-world examples and demonstrations.
Motivation can determine the level of pupil engagement and effort, and so is a prerequisite of learning. Pupils’ motivation can be determined by how competent they feel in a given subject, topic or task. Teachers can develop pupils’ competence by ensuring that all pupils achieve success – for instance, by providing additional support and scaffolding where necessary. However, to gain motivation, pupils also have to see the work they are completing as challenging. Therefore, teachers should aim for a level of difficulty that allows for success but is not seen as too easy. Secondly, teachers can ensure that any feedback to pupils focuses on effort and progress rather than ability or pupil-to-pupil comparisons. Finally, motivation can be achieved through the use of peer support and collaboration, and through teachers explicitly explaining the benefits of learning tasks and teaching techniques to pupils.
Positive and preventative classroom management
Proactive strategies that avoid inappropriate behaviour developing may be more effective than those that react to this behaviour once it has occurred. These strategies include:
- Routines that are explicitly taught and rehearsed, including entry to lessons, beginning lessons, transitions between tasks and the end of lessons.
- Meeting pupils at the door and greeting them positively.
- Explaining exactly how you want pupils to complete a task/activity.
- Identifying positive behaviours (rather than identifying those pupils who are not doing as you have asked) to normalise the positive/expected behaviour.
- Scanning the whole room regularly and making it very obvious that you are doing so.
- Using less invasive interventions for initial unwanted behaviour, such as proximity, gestures and anonymous corrections.
- Giving specific praise regarding behaviour, effort and progress when deserved.
Coe, R., Rauch, C. J., Kime, S., & Singleton, D. (2019). Great Teaching Toolkit: Evidence Review. Evidence Based Education.
Lemov, D. (2015). Teach Like a Champion 2.0: 62 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College. Jossey-Bass.
Rosenthal, R. & Jacobson, L. (1968). Pygmalion in the classroom. The Urban Review. 3(1), 16–20. https://doi.org/10.1007/bf02322211
Top 20 principles from psychology for preK–12 teaching and learning. (2015). American Psychological Association, Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education.