Classroom management on the first day of school

Setting expectations is an important part of classroom management and today’s discussion comes on the heels of my participation in the recent Bam Radio show, “Your Classroom Management Plan: Setting Expectations from Day One.” Take a minute to listen to the interview by clicking the links above or the photo below…

Bam Radio on classroom management and setting expectations on day one

Classroom Management vs. Behavior Management 

It is easy to confuse the term “classroom management” with “behavior management.” In today’s Bam Radio discussion, Harry Wong says “One of the most misused words in American education is ‘classroom management.’ You say that to most teachers and they think it has to do with behavior management.” “Classroom management is how you run and manage a classroom with procedures so that the students know what to do, when to do it, and how they can do it so that they can learn and succeed.” 

In the early childhood classroom, we can look at classroom management as a plan for what procedures our students will follow throughout each day as well as what the teacher’s role is in helping our students have a successful experience each day. Let’s break this down a little further…

Have a Plan

Successful classroom management starts with a plan. For example, Wong says that every single day you should plan to greet your students at the door and let them know they are welcome into the classroom. Nick Romagnolo goes on to say that your plan needs to include not only what procedures your students will follow but also when and how those procedures will be taught to the children.

Classroom management: Setting expectations on day one by Teach Preschool

In our classroom the children are greeted at the door then reminded every day to put their things in their cubby then come back and put their name on our attendance chart and then go and sit down on the carpet to join us for our morning circletime. This is an example of four classroom procedures that we do every single day and we start teaching this process on our very first day of preschool…

  1. Teacher greets children at the door.
  2. Children are taught and then reminded to put backpacks and coats in cubbies.
  3. Children are taught and then reminded to put their names up on the attendance chart.
  4. Children are taught and then reminded to come and sit down on the carpet to join the group for morning circletime.

In my classroom, there is a simple circletime procedure too. The children are asked to sit down on the edges of our carpet. This simple procedure helps my students learn to recognize that there are lots of us that need to see and participate. Sitting on the edge of the carpet may not at first glance seem like it is a “procedure” but it actually is. It is a classroom management procedure that helps my students build respect for each other and helps to remove some of the battles that can come up when a large group of children all sit down together. Starting off the school year by sitting on the edges of the carpet helps our students begin the school year with more successful circletime experience…

Announcing the helper of the day and inviting the helper to come up front so we can learn about our helper.

Once the children have all come to join us for morning circletime, we then choose our “Helper of the Day” and invite our helper to take a look outside and tell us what they think the weather is like today which often leads into a short discussion about the day’s weather. Again, we now have introduced two more procedures that our classroom will follow everyday and we begin these procedures on our very first day too…

  1. Announcing the helper of the day and inviting the helper to come up front so we can learn about our helper.
  2. Inviting the helper of the day to tell us about the weather then complete our weather symbol chart for the day.

Classroom management: Setting expectations on day one by Teach Preschool

The procedures that help us start our day provide the information that our students need so they will know what is expected of them when they come into the classroom. As the children get into the morning routine of putting backpacks away and joining in for morning circletime, they begin to glide through each of these procedures with ease and confidence and it takes away any confusion as to what will happen when they walk into the classroom each and every morning. Oh, it can still seem chaotic and noisy but if you look closely you will see our students knowing what to do and how to do it and doing it with confidence no matter how noisy they are in the process…

Classroom management: Setting expectations on day one by Teach Preschool

Be Consistent

Wong indicates that the most important part of classroom management is consistency and goes on to say that the greatest gift we can give kids is for them to come to a classroom that is predictable and consistent.  Romagnolo shares that when kids come into the classroom and know what to do and how to do it, you are ultimately establishing a classroom that is truly student led and student centered. In other words, when a teacher provides consistency in classroom procedures starting from day one, the children ultimately become more self-sufficient and competent in all areas of the classroom.

Classroom management: Setting expectations on day one by Teach Preschool

Our snack time procedure is a great example of providing a consistent routine that ultimately leads to a classroom that is student-led and student-centered.  Right from the start, we show children where, when and how to wash their hands before heading over to the snack table. We teach the children how to get their own napkin, cup, and a spoon if needed…

Classroom management: Setting expectations on day one by Teach Preschool

Then over the next few weeks, we begin showing the children how to serve their own snack and to pour their own juice. Eventually, the entire snack time process is led by the students. We set the groundwork for success so that they can be independent and self-sufficient in the process of serving their own snack (like this gummy worm dirt snack!)…

Classroom management: Setting expectations on day one by Teach Preschool

Behind the scenes, there is also classroom management planning going on by the teachers too. We have our snack cabinet all set up and organized right from day one to make snack time run smoothly. In our snack cabinet there are cups, napkins, baskets all set up and ready to go so we aren’t running around trying to find the things we already know that we will need everyday. Having an organized space and plan in place behind the scenes helps snack time to run smoothly so that the children aren’t waiting for us to find things but instead are able to move smoothly into the snack time process…

Classroom management: Setting expectations on day one by Teach Preschool

Time to Master

Romagnolo reminds us that it takes time to learn something new so to keep in mind that as you start your plan from the first day of school, it will take time for your students to fully remember and follow your classroom procedures. He recommends that you have your plan in place then start your plan on the very first day of school then build on your plan over the next few months of school by teaching, practicing, and reminding your students of your procedures over a period of time…

Classroom management: Setting expectations on day one by Teach Preschool

Our paint drying shelf is a good example of what Romagnolo is talking about here. Each child is taught how to put their paintings or wet art into their own paint shelf when finished. It may seem like a simple classroom management procedure but it takes time for teaching, practice, and reminding our students that when they are finished with their artwork, they need to put their artwork in their drying shelf so it can dry instead of just leaving it on the table or accidentally putting wet artwork in their cubby or backpack…

Classroom management: Setting expectations on day one by Teach Preschool

Setting the Tone

Wong says that consistency in procedures/classroom management is the most important aspect of getting your students off to the right start in school. Wong says consistency sends the message to your students that your classroom is safe, loving, predictable, and a place that they can succeed.

Classroom management: Setting expectations on day one by Teach Preschool

After our snack time is over, the children know that this is the time when they are to spend a little time reading a book. Sometimes, one of the teachers will sit with a child or a group of children and read but most of the time, this is when the children know they are to choose a book and a space to go and read on their own…

Classroom management: Setting expectations on day one by Teach Preschool

From a classroom management perspective, this time allows one of the teachers to clean up the snack time tables and get organized for the next part of the day while the other teacher is providing reminders, guidance, or support for the reading experience. In other words, there are different purposes for implementing this classroom procedure into this part of our day.

  1. To make the transition from snack time to the next part of our day go smoothly.
  2. To encourage our students to spend time reading alone or with one another.

However, it is extremely important to keep in mind the needs of the children first when planning any procedure in your classroom and to be consistent with the process. In order for this part of our day to be successful, the children need for us to give them consistent time invested in teaching them, reminding them, and supporting their read-alone efforts right from the very first day so that the read-alone experience will be a positive part of their day…

Classroom management: Setting expectations on day one by Teach Preschool

Building Community

In the process of teaching, practicing, and reminding young children about the procedures in your classroom, Nancy Flanigan emphasizes that in the midst of it all, it is important to understand that establishing positive relationships and building community starting from day one is an integral part of student success…

Classroom management: Setting expectations on day one by Teach Preschool

What I am sharing with you today are just a few of the simple procedures we have in place right from the first day of school to help our students ultimately be independent thinkers and doers..

Classroom management: Setting expectations on day one by Teach Preschool

Planning for classroom management shouldn’t be about controlling every step your students do all throughout the day. Instead classroom management is about consistently giving children the tools and guidance they need to ultimately be independent, self-sufficient, and successful participants in the overall community of their classroom experience…

Classroom management: Setting expectations on day one by Teach Preschool

Classroom Management focus

So while you are thinking through your classroom procedures, Nancy’s emphasis on building community and concern for one another should be what drives every decision you make. Don’t get focused on making procedures that are just for the sake of making procedures. Instead, focus on planning procedures that lead your students towards feeling confident, in control, connected to each other, and feeling that they are a valued member of your community right from the very first day they enter your classroom…

Classroom management: Setting expectations on day one by Teach Preschool


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Teaching preschoolers expectations

There are three key elements that teachers should include in the process of setting boundaries and expectations for young children…

Setting expectations in the preschool classroom

Explain, Rehearse, and Reinforce

These are not my words but the words of K. R. Victor. According to Victor (2001):

“Once you have created the plan you must teach it to your students.
When teaching the plan, keep in mind three things: Explain, rehearse, and reinforce.
Explain, simply put, means to create a lesson plan that teaches the rules” (p.25).

Victor’s words reflect my own views of guiding young children to meet expectations only I have used a little bit different terminology.

Let’s take a minute to look at Victor’s ideas…

Setting expectations in the preschool classroom

Helping children understand expectations should be a part of the planning process in the early childhood classroom. Young children need boundaries and guidelines that are age appropriate, reasonable, flexible, and understandable. Guidelines and boundaries are based on teacher expectations as well. In order for children to understand teacher expectations, the teacher needs to include time for teaching expectations in the planning process.

Setting expectations in the preschool classroom

Even for the youngest preschooler, there can be an assumption that the child should already know better. For example, when a preschooler throws a napkin on the floor rather than in the trash, an adult might think that this child just doesn’t care or isn’t a good listener. Instead throwing the napkin in the trash needs to be looked as an expectation to be learned.

It is important to get into the practice of explaining expectations. Children need to be taught what is expected in simple, meaningful, and understandable terms. Just as we plan our lessons to teach the ABC’s or 123″s, we need to devise a plan for teaching expectations rather than just assuming the children should get the idea.

For example: I once had a group of children who would not lay on their cot without kicking their feet in the air. This got to be something that was funny to them and going around cot to cot was simply not effective. As soon as I got one set of feet out of the air, another set of feet popped up. It was like playing the gopher game!

So I decided to plan a lesson on laying down on the cot.  My assistant and I took out a kid’s cot and while my assistant gave me simple directions, I laid down on the cot and put my feet down. When my assistant would turn away – I dramatically kicked my feet up in the air. All the children laughed and then my assistant turned around and acted all surprised. She then explained to me why it was very important to keep my feet down and told me how she would be so proud of me if I could remember this rule.  So when she turned her back again, I  snuggled in with a blanket and bear and went to sleep. My assistant turned around again and gave me huge props for being such a big helper and good listener.  The children loved this little play:)

Pouring in Preschool by Teach Preschool

After explaining an expectation to the child, the next step in the process is to rehearse the expectation. The child or children must then practice what was just explained.

For example: The teacher explains how to throw a napkin in the trash; then demonstrates how to throw a napkin in the trash; then lets the child take a turn throwing the napkin in the trash.  This allow the teacher to evaluate the child’s understanding of the expectation.

In the cot example above, my assistant and I had each of the children come and show us how to lay down on the cot all snuggly. We made a huge deal out of everyone as they eagerly showed us they understood the expectation.

Setting Expectations in the Preschool Classroom

Once an expectation has been explained and rehearsed, now the expectation can be reinforced. To reinforce an expectation, the teacher can…

Remind the child: “Don’t forget to throw that napkin in the trash can!”
Redirect the child: “Should we put the napkin in the trash can or just leave it on the floor?”
Praise the child: “I noticed you threw the napkin in the trash can all by yourself! That was awesome!”

In the cot example, we carried our message into naptime through a positive and praiseworthy approach. The children found it more appealing to show us how they could keep those legs down. We reinforced the positive results by stating over and over, “you look so peaceful and cuddly on your cot” or “I am so proud of how you remember exactly what to do.

Setting expectations in preschool

Back to Planning
When you see that an expectation is just not being met then this is sign to start back at the planning stage.

Perhaps time has gone by and the expectation has not been reinforced effectively or perhaps the child just wasn’t developmentally ready to grasp the expectation. It could be that the expectation was simply not age appropriate. Regardless of the reason, when a child is not demonstrating an understanding of an expectation, then it is time to start the process all over again: Explain, Rehearse, Reinforce!

Victor, K. R. (2001) Identifying effective behavior management in the early childhood classroom. B.R.E. Practical Bible College.