I really think many teachers underestimate the importance of culture in schools and classrooms. In my opinion everything about the experience is culture: what we say, how we say it, what we never say, architecture, furniture, lighting, tone of voice, body language, what we do and don’t do, what students do or aren’t allowed to do. Every interaction and activity is a part of our culture and creates the “norms.”
Many teachers have shifted from a syllabus and the “rules” the first day of class to community building and things like designing social contracts together. I applaud this, but it is not enough! If we all agree to be responsible, but you never trust students then you are undermining the culture. If we agree to respect one another but then you micromanage every part of the class then you don’t really respect your students.
What students need from us is trust. Too often we start off the year with an assumption of negative behaviors from students that we need to cut off before they happen. Students will be off-task, misbehave, and waste time. The truth is that they probably will sometimes. But the danger of starting the year with this assumption is that it starts with a negative expectation. The other truth is that students will do amazing things that you never expected and teach you things, if you let them. Let’s try focusing on this instead the first day.
An example from my room is that I always tell students (10th grade) that they are not allowed to ask to go to the bathroom or get a drink in my class. I always say it in my most serious tone with a dramatic pause. Then I say, “Just get up and go if you have to go. I am not here to babysit you for basic human needs.” My starting point is assuming trust and responsibility.
I understand that this example might not work for your specific situation, but what can you do to communicate a starting position of trust, respect, and responsibility rather than expectations of poor behavior?