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Teaching in the outdoors creates opportunities for students to explore organisms and materials that they may have been taught to regard as gross, messy, or even dangerous. Everything from looking at animal scat on a trail to holding a worm to smelling compost may bring up a reflexive “yuck” response from students, or from adult teachers or chaperones accompanying a student group into the field. I have seen students shriek, giggle, recoil, joke about, or attempt to push their peers closer to an object they associate with a sense of “yuck.” Adults are often more subdued in their responses, but can be equally susceptible to the reflex, and their impulse to pull away from topics such as invertebrates or decay affects students’ sense of their relevance and appeal as sites of learning.

I grew up with landscape gardeners for parents, and a number of early childhood photographs show me literally sitting atop a pile of compost. Handling macroinvertebrates like worms or millipedes, being exposed to smells or sights of rot, and generally using my senses to explore became familiar processes to me very early on in life. When my students have a “yuck” reaction to things that seem mundane to me, I sometimes need to step back and check in with myself about how I can make a new experience approachable for them. What was it that adults in my life did for me to make handling soil and worms a positive experience? What have I seen be effective in the field in my own work as an educator?

Modeling Curiosity

Namoi ArticleConsciously modeling positive attitudes and approaches to “yuck” factor organisms is the first of the two major tools I have used to help students learn about topics they find gross in a physically and emotionally safe way. Modeling mainly comes down to expressing my genuine enthusiasm for topics like spiders or scat. If a child shouts, “There’s a spider!” and I respond with “Ooh, where? Can you show me? I want to see it,” I’ve already shaken up the response model many students are used to receiving from adults and peers. It doesn’t force students to mirror my enthusiasm, but it makes them aware that some people curiously reach towards the same experiences that make others recoil, and that such curiosity can be open to them, too.

When students internalize the message that an organism or substance is gross and should be avoided, it limits their sense of its complexity and potential to be a site of learning. The implicit message is that the proper form of engagement is to disengage – drop that frog, don’t touch that bug, go wash your hands quick! Showing curiosity and excitement towards a “yuck” factor demonstrates that there is another option. It is possible to acknowledge the discomforts and contexts through which students approach their sense of “yuck” while also modeling responsible curiosity and observational skills – set that frog down carefully, ask before touching that bug, go wash the compost off your hands when you feel done.

Choice-Based Engagement

Multi-level, choice-based modes of engagement with “yuck” factors help students feel supported in approaching new experiences at their own pace. Is holding a millipede in the garden, or a crab at the harbor, too much? What about looking at it as it moves across the ground without touching it, or what if I hold it, and you look at it in my hand? Sometimes students will be frightened to pick an organism up on their own, but be happy to have an adult or peer pick it up and set it in their hands. Simply having a moment to prepare and contemplate the experience can make a big difference.

Take the time to identify what pieces of an experience might feel challenging for students, and consider ways to meet them with kindness at each of those challenge points. Encourage, but don’t require, that students attempt to scale up their practice of engagement with the thing that activates their sense of “yuck,” letting their own boldness surprise and enthuse them as they choose their own form of scientific adventure. You may find, as I have, that an initially fearful student will softly murmur “so gross” in a continuous loop while simultaneously holding a slug mere millimeters from their own face.

Creating a scale of intensity for such learning experiences is an important form of scaffolding for full-group engagement in a lesson. If touching worms in order to count their presence in a soil sample is too much for a student to handle, they can move the soil around with a spoon, or the back of a pencil. If that approach is still intimidating, they can visually count and record what they see while a peer digs through the soil in front of them. Offering choices for forms of engagement means ensuring that a “yuck” response doesn’t let students opt out of a lesson’s core learning goals.

Self Evaluation

Whether you are starting from a very scat and compost-friendly state of mind or navigating your own sense of “yuck” along with those you teach, you can support your practice as an outdoor educator by thinking through the ways you explore these topics with students. My major challenge has been finding ways to shake myself out of my sense of familiarity with topics like amphibians, invertebrates, scat, and rot, so I can meet students where they are. Sometimes “where they are” means “screaming in fear at the mention of a salamander,” and my ability to be a warm and reassuring guide to a new topic of scientific curiosity becomes even more important. Your challenges may be fears or unfamiliarities of your own, campus spaces that limit opportunities for engagement with “yuck” factor topics, or the perennial problem of having limited time to apply a new theme or concept to your teaching practice. Modeling curiosity and fostering choice-based engagement are not the only possible answers to the challenges of the “yuck” factor, but they can become impactful pieces of your strategy toolkit as an outdoor educator.

What do you get when multiple IslandWood field groups join forces to learn together? A supergroup!

What’s the purpose of supergrouping?

Although students arrive at IslandWood from their respective schools, here they are in this unique space and community together; each week a new group of students comes together as one IslandWood school. When field groups supergroup for a lesson, students are afforded an opportunity to learn about and from their peers at different schools. It is when we share ideas and build on those of others that we really start to understand, create, and innovate.

Sounds interesting… but will my students really be able to teach and learn from one another?

When your students are engaged in a supergroup lesson, you and your co-instructors are facilitating a peer-assisted learning experience. These lessons are powerful for your students because children are better suited to adjust their understanding and perception of something around the ideas of others in a similar developmental stage. In these settings, students are more inclined to examine and reexamine their ideas, which leads to higher levels of comprehension and reasoning. Finally, when learning involves social interaction with a peer, the content of the lesson involves a significant social motivation for each student, and in turn increases their level of accountability to understand the concept. While the benefits of teaching and learning from one’s peers are numerous, this type of  learning environment is likely to be new for many of your students. It is important to consider how you will support your students not only in learning the content within the lesson, but also how you will incorporate the opportunities for students to teach students authentically.

 I’m interested in supergrouping. How do I get started?

As you plan with your co-instructors, identify a lesson that allows students to draw from not only their IslandWood experience, but also their knowledge from school and other life experiences. Be prepared to share the goal with the group so that they know what they are working towards and why collaboration is so important. For example, “This week, we are going to work together to observe many of the ecosystems at IslandWood to discover how they are all connected! None of us will see all the ecosystems here at IslandWood, but together, we’ll learn from and teach one another about what we notice out there.”

The experience should pose enough challenge such that students feel compelled to ask their peers to share their input. Students will be drawn into the conversation when they have questions to ask and information to share. While the experience of meeting new people may be socially motivating for some students, others may be more shy and will need help from their instructors to break the ice. When the groups first come together, play a game that encourages students to share their name and allows them to begin to recognize the students in the other field groups. Finally, make the supergroup a priority in your week. Many students will be hesitant at first to work with students from a different school rather than someone they know from school. By providing students with multiple opportunities to interact with the students from the other groups, over time the whole group will become more cohesive. Start supergrouping on Monday, and come back to the group each day of the week.

Supergrouping is an exhilarating and collaborative experience for instructors, too! As you and your co-instructors plan for your supergroup lesson, be considering the following questions:

  1. How will supergrouping support students from each group achieve the learning targets?
  2. How will you support your students to feel safe, empowered, and accountable to teach and learn from their collaborators?
  3. How will your students’ age, existing level of understanding of a concept, home community, and other identities influence their ability to teach and learn from students from another school? How will I support ELL students or students with learning differences so that they too are successful in teaching and learning from their peers?

When working as an outdoor educator, one of the most common problems is lack of time. Depending on the type of program, students may only be there for a few days, or sometimes just a few hours if it’s an in-school field trip. Lack of time compounded with having one of you and ten to twelve of them can complicate things. This means that finding the time to get to know the students and feel like you connected with them can sometimes fall to the wayside, especially when you feel you have other lessons and program objectives to meet. But finding ways to connect with your students is vital. Why should your students care about your ecosystem lesson if they feel you don’t care about their lives, or what they have to say outside of the lesson?

While connecting with students in a short time can be challenging, here’s a few tried and true tricks to help you get started:

connecting with studentsLearn their names. Taking the time to learn your students’ names tells them that they are important to you. They aren’t just another child you have to teach something to. Learning their names honors their individuality. Figure out how feasible this is in your timeframe, and do your best with it. This can be easier if you have your students for a few days, but even if it is for only a short field trip, try to make some effort. If you are addressing a child directly, ask their name and then use it when you address them. If you aren’t good at remembering names, try some memory games to help, or use name games that associate that name with something.

Eye contact is key. This one may seem obvious, but it’s easy to underestimate its importance. When talking with your students, make sure to look them in the eyes. Or, if it’s a student that seems uncomfortable with eye contact, mirror the amount of eye contact they use. This is another to way to show your students that they matter to you, because it shows that they have your full attention when you are talking with them.

Trail conversations are a great time to build rapport. Walking from point A to point B with your students is a great time to connect with them. Not every single moment needs to be filled up with activities and lessons, especially trail time. By giving them time to do what they want as you walk, this time can serve as a brain break and as a time for you to chat with your students. I love to place myself throughout the group and just listen to the conversations around me. I also find that students will often start talking with me about various things, both related and unrelated to our programming, or I can strike up conversations with nearby students. This is a great start to getting to know your students: what their family is like, what pets they have, favorite movies, books, TV shows, what that keychain on their backpack is from. There are endless topics to cover when walking the trails.

Remember what they told you. Once you’ve started to get to know your students, make it clear that you remember what they told you. Use recall to bring up previous things they’ve already told you. For example, a student mentions they have a dog and tells you about some silly antic their dog does sometimes. At a later time, ask for more details. What’s the dog’s name? What kind of dog is it? How long has the student had the dog? This shows your students that you listen when they talk to you, and that what they say is important enough to you for you to remember it.

Be open and authentic. This can be a little tricky, and ultimately depends on your comfort level. Oftentimes opening yourself up and sharing yourself with your students will help them open up to you. I like to start off my time with my students by making it clear that I will, within reason, answer questions about myself and share with them. I also make it clear that I am my own person, outside of being an educator. I do my best to be myself with them, which can also help me find things we have in common. For example, when teaching throughout the winter, I wore a hat with logos of my favorite NFL team. My favorite team was not a popular choice with my students, and many of them would vocalize that, and while we would agree to disagree as to whose team was better, football gave me common ground with some of my students. Sometimes just being yourself and being authentic with your students can help create a space where they feel comfortable enough to share a little bit and try to connect with you.

The bottom of my field teaching backpack usually contains a section of rope, a habit that carries over from backcountry trips. Rope is an incredibly versatile tool that can be used for many things, including teaching in the field.

My “teaching” rope has yet to teach any knots. I could, of course, use it to teach students a figure-eight, square knot, half-hitch, clove-hitch, fisherman’s and so on. I’ve taught knots in other settings and doing so can be a great way to break the ice, occupy time with something productive and provide a challenge that involves both the hands and the brain.

knots

Most frequently the rope gets used to teach students about teamwork. One good entry-level team-building exercise involves tying the rope ends together to make a circle and have each student take the rope in their hands. The task is to work together to make a square, a rectangle, a hexagon. Have every other kid turn around and face the opposite direction to make it harder. Or skip the shapes altogether and have the students all lean backwards at the same time so the rope becomes taut and holds them up. This is sometimes referred to as a “yurt circle” and works best with an even number of students.

If the rope is marked in increments it can be used as a giant measuring stick. Stretched out straight it can serve as a transect line, or it can section off a specific area for close study like a quadrat. Want to know how tall something is?  Figure out how long the rope is, then hold onto one end tightly while throwing the other end upwards: you can get at least an approximate idea. I’ve also used it as a human continuum, with students lining up along the rope according to how they feel about something. One end of the rope could be “my favorite food is broccoli”, the opposite end “I consider broccoli evidence of evil in the world”.

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I’ve used the rope as part of a ceremony to bookend teaching, inviting students to join me inside the rope circle at the beginning of the week and asking them to step outside the circle at the end of the week. The rope signifies group membership and reinforces a shared sense of language and shared customs. Crossing the rope becomes a symbolic rite of passage.

Orchestrating various lessons is easier with a piece of rope. Making knots in a piece of rope can be used as a mnemonic device for breaking down complex tasks: narrate the individual steps, tying an alpine butterfly as you go, then have the students walk through the steps themselves, tugging on each butterfly loop as they recall the step. You can even leave the rope out and the knots visible as a reminder for students.

Rope can be used in all manner of games, to designate a starting line, delineate a safe area or simply provide a boundary.

Need students to circle up and listen to instructions? Make a circle on the ground with rope and have students line their toes up with the rope.  It’s like wrangling students with the teaching lasso!

Whatever you end up using it for, a piece of rope in your backpack can be an invaluable teaching tool.

 

A student arrives to their overnight environmental program, a smile beaming from ear to ear with excitement and a camera ready at their hand to take photos- of everything. That student might end up taking a lot of photos during lessons and cameras and that can be distracting for the entire group. For this reason many places have taken the model of ‘leave your technology at home’

Cameras are something that the majority of people have now. Because of this social media sights like Instagram are popping up and encourage people to take pictures of their life and what they are doing, all the time. Some organizations have taken full advantage of these media sights and have photo contests nationwide to get people outside, like the Find Your Park campaign by the National Parks. Environmental educators’ audience have expanded because of social media. But, we have also been ignoring the fact that we’re inspiring people to go outside themselves to get that next epic photo. As an educator, I feel that we need to educate people so they can go out and get that photo in a proper and responsible way.

Due to the lack of education, people are hurting themselves and the place environmental educators are trying so hard to protect. A great time to teach people, especially children, about this responsibility is during an overnight environmental programs, like IslandWood School Overnight Program.

Here at IslandWood, lessons can be done with IPods and cameras with the students to have them take photos while they are in more of a nature setting. Going over a few things will set them up for them later on as they explore with their cameras at hand.

Some possible things to talk about when doing a lesson about responsibility when taking photographs:

1) Do Your Research- Know some background pieces about the subject. Where and when should you go? Is it mating season for this particular species? Is this ecosystem more delicate in some seasons?

2) Cause No Stress- Lack of disturbance must be a priority.

a. Know the proper distances to keep. According to the National Park, a person should stay 25 yards (about the size of two school buses) away from large mammals like elk, moose, etc and 100 yards (the length of a football field) away from large predatory mammals like wolves and bears.

b. Be mindful of not following a certain subject. They might have young they don’t want to lead you to or they might become accustomed to seeing a person and become unafraid.

3) Leave No Trace- Stay on trails, using a quiet voice, camp on durable surfaces, and carry in- carry out. You want to limit your presence as much as possible.

Some questions to ponder before going out:

What is my end goal for this picture? Is it just for me or am I trying to inspire other people to come here? What will happen if a lot of people do come here? Can the environment and wildlife handle it?

As an environmental educator, I want people to interact with nature with cameras in a responsible manner so people and nature stay happy and safe.

When I first brought along the little grinning monkey with long Velcro limbs, I didn't have a lot of confidence in my ability to convince a group of 10-12 year olds that it would be a fun and an important part of our team.  Aren't students that age getting pretty concerned with being cool and not being little kids that play with toys?  After using my now very familiar and very dusty monkey friend over the course of the past several months, I'm totally convinced of its efficacy as a catalyst of positive social emotional development.  Even 6th graders didn't scoff at it.  From observing other instructors and making some of my own additions, I've utilized the following techniques to transform an inanimate object into a tool of positive social emotional growth and to foster a culture of appreciation.

1. Let the suspense build: On the first day, I attach the monkey to my backpack but don't mention anything about it.  There's usually at least one student who asks about it right away.  By the end of the day, several others are wanting to know what's up with the monkey.  Why's it here? Can they touch it?  Does it have a name?

2.Build up to the introduction: On the second day, I usually pull out the monkey and make a big deal of introducing it and let everyone know it will be an important part of our team.  By this point, most of the students have their eyes locked in and can barely stand not playing with it.

3. Naming as a team building exercise: I then hand the monkey over to the students and ask them to go away from adults and come back when they have a name (Bob seems to be a pretty popular one, with creativity award going to Chanjella).  When they come back, the first thing I do is check in with everyone and have them rate 1-5 if they felt like they were heard and respected in the naming process.  If there are a lot of folks rating the process low, we brainstorm how to make the process more inclusive, and then I give them another chance to decide on a final name.

4. How the monkey travels through the group:I then ask everyone to think if there is anyone who they can appreciate for being helpful/brave/generous during the naming process.  Once several students have received appreciations, I hand the monkey to the student who received the first appreciation.  I then explain that every hour or so (when we're circled up and not in the middle of a lesson), the person who has the monkey will pass it to another group member with an appreciation.  Everyone will hold the monkey during our time as a group.  It’s Important to mention that appreciations should be specific, and not only directed at friends that you already know well. When a student first receives the monkey, I remind them that they should be paying attention to other group members so that they can notice when someone deserves an appreciation.  I also give them a few minute warning before a circle/monkey pass so that they can gather their words, and so that no one student has the monkey for too long.

The outcome has been overwhelmingly positive.  In some groups where the interactions are pretty negative, the passing of the stuffed animal really keeps the group morale afloat.  I had one group of students that typically interacted with irritation and there was one little boy in particular that rarely said anything positive to other students.  When someone appreciated him for helping with lunch I saw the first smile of the week.  Although his attitude didn’t completely change, I did notice him interacting with several students in a positive way after receiving that praise. The infusion of structured positive interaction has real potential to support the health of a community.

Other possible adaptations/ideas:

  • have some (or all) of the passing be outside of circling up, more of a private appreciation between two students
  • pass it around at the end of each day for group appreciations
  • come up with a song for the passing/appreciation

When working in the back or front-country wilderness you may find yourself convincing your students or clients about the ease and comfort of disposing of their

human waste in a natural setting. You may have fumbled through a tutorial once or twice about “digging a hole and aiming”, or tried to explain the benefits of using a composting toilet with a seemingly-endless black hole and unfamiliar air currents.

The reality is, once a novice has one positive experience of using an alternative or natural toilet, the task becomes less embarrassing and stressful.

What are the options?

  • Nature pee (and pack it in-pack it out)
    When at a remote campsite or in high-traffic day hike areas, you may find yourself needing to embrace a nature pee. Teaching kids from a young age about proper stance and appropriate locations to “use the woods” will reduce soiling oneself and embarrassment on everyone’s behalf. Furthermore, to be a true steward in high-use areas without other facilities, packing out one’s solid waste in zip-top bags is common practice.

  • Outhouses and Portable Toilets
    External toilets are a part of our national heritage: these toilet systems have been around since the 1940s! They also use 90% less water than traditional flushing toilets. Many state and national parks use portable restrooms or restrooms that are drained throughout the season; while they can be odorous and occasionally soiled, the most effective way to be a steward is to ensure the lid is closed after each use and to have hand sanitizer available once you have left the units.

  • Composting Toilets
    These eco-friendly bathroom alternative use no water and they compost our human waste into a new product: soil! The composting toilet system works through aerobic decomposition of the solid waste and evaporation of the liquid waste resulting in solid garden mulch. Explaining to younger users how the composting toilets work and why they are great for the earth can help to alleviate fears and mistrust of unfamiliar systems!

Why does it matter?

Education Director for the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, Ben Lawhon, states that human waste and what we do with it can be one of the most significant impacts that faces lands used by the public for recreation. It impacts disease transmission and health, water quality, aesthetics, and social realms --and it's something that a lot of people just have a hard time dealing with.” As environmental educators and explorers we strive to minimize the impact on our planet and our communities; our waste is certainly included in that impact. Using these three steps, doing your business in nature can become peaceful and stress-free:

  1. Familiarity: Determine the most efficient and sanitary waste system available to you and become familiar with it early on in your adventure. Introducing your friends or team members to composting toilets and how they function will help to alleviate stress; starting a backpacking trip with a hypothetical display of removing excessive clothing, digging a hole and squatting will ease those with concerns about future bowel movements and what to do when they occur in the backcountry.

  2. Promote Sanitation: Determine what materials you will be using (toilet paper, smooth rocks, leaves, etc) and how you will dispose of them. Pack it in, pack it out in sealable plastic bags and/or compostable toilet paper materials. Change into clean clothes as often as possible.

  3. Ask Questions! If you are unsure about the appropriate protocol for your outing, ask a friend or a local guide. Ecosystems are often fragile and susceptible to bacteria from human waste. Ask before you “go”!

Further Resources:

http://www.backpacker.com/skills/beginner/bathroom-etiquette/

http://www.gotugo.com/blog/resources/fun-facts-portable-restrooms/

 

 

It is a scene that is repeated over and over. A student finds a stick on the side of the trail and soon enough, they are walking towards you as if they have just begun a trek along the Pacific Crest Trail. As an environmental educator, with safety as a priority for my students, I feel myself getting ready to say “Please put the stick down”. However, unless the child is using the stick as a wand, sword, light sabre or other object that needs to waved in the air, I find myself taking a different route now, one that embraces the use of sticks in the field. I have ultimately come to the conclusion that using sticks in our environmental education setting can truly have significant benefits.

Sticks for Learning about Engineering

Incorporating a structured activity using sticks can be an educational and fun experience. Using sticks as a medium, it can be focused on the concepts of design and creation. Students can work in small teams to find a location to build a bridge, shelter, or something else, depending on the prompt. The level of difficulty can be adjusted, even going as far as creating a walkable and sturdy bridge over a puddle. After building and testing out their projects, each group can present their creation, explaining the design, process and complexities of their structure. The process of building will be an experiential learning experience about what works and what doesn’t, as well as offer a small scale glimpse into major concepts that are a part of building anything.

Sticks for Learning about Teamwork

Not only are students learning about different engineering concepts, they are also working as a team in the process. Decision making comes into play as soon as the teams are formed. What location will we pick? Who is charge of what parts? What design should we attempt? What size materials should we use? Team members get the opportunity to work together for a concrete task, all while practicing very important communication and decision making skills. At the very end, students can share about their experience building together and discuss what went well or could be improved.

Sticks for Demonstrating Trust

Whether or not it is a building project, it is important for my students to know that I trust them to responsibly handle large sticks. This element of trust is a huge foundational piece for me, one that is extremely important to weave and communicate throughout any teaching experience. As mentioned before, one situation that comes up often when working with 5th graders is the desire to have a walking stick. I don’t ever bring up the idea of walking sticks unprompted, but as soon as a student inevitably picks up a stick I use it as an opportunity to explain my specific protocol that answers the following questions.

  • When and where will we be able to use walking sticks? This should be very clear. I often pick a trail that is removed from the main campus and doesn’t involve tricky terrain.
  • What does it look like to use a walking stick responsibly? Don’t underestimate the power of modeling this behavior. Pick a student and have them show everyone.
  • How tall can your walking stick be? Below shoulder height is usually easy to manage.
  • Where can we get a walking stick without harming our surroundings and each other? Make sure that getting a stick does not involve stepping into harmful plants or breaking branches.
  • Most importantly, why are you allowing walking sticks when the common expectation is to leave them on the ground? Without this, you may as well not let your students have sticks. I explain that I trust them and know they will show me this too.

There is not denying the magnetic force between sticks and students. The connection is quite real, and I think it is an opportunity to use sticks for good. I have never had any issues with students using sticks, whether as part of a more structured building activity or casually on the trails. When expectations are set high, and it is clear to the students that you trust them, they will rise up. I like to believe that all students will rise up if given the chance. Having this foundation of trust is when learning outdoors truly happens.

Students have a general affinity towards sticks and the potential to use it for learning responsibly, while still having fun, exists. Let’s embrace it.

Teaching in outdoor and informal education settings poses a number of unique challenges for those who choose this exciting and rewarding career. For example, instructors are faced with the monumental task of creating and maintaining a positive learning environment for students that they have just met. Additionally, informal educators must provide students with excellent learning opportunities in unfamiliar, exciting, and often totally distracting places. Finally, informal educators have a limited amount of time with their students to teach new concepts, address alternative conceptions, and stretch student thinking. Whether an educator has only an hour or an entire week with their students, most would agree that time is precious and should be spent learning and exploring.

How do we, as educators, maximize the limited time we have with our students? How do we ensure that we make the most of our instructional time? One strategy to help students transition smoothly from their classroom to a new environment is to set clear behavioral expectations early on and to hold students accountable. Well-defined expectations serve as a reminder to students that they are in a learning environment and that their behavior should align with the behavior expected of them in a classroom setting.

Through a series of trial-and-error teaching experiments, I have created a combination of 3 expectations that have proven to be exceptionally useful in concisely articulating my expectations for my students. It just so happens that they each start with the letter “P”, which works to my advantage, as it allows me to assign a snappy nickname to this grouping of behavioral norms: The Three Ps. The Three Ps are Participation, Positivity, and People Respecting Other People Speaking (otherwise known as P.R.O.P.S).

When used in conjunction, these three expectations address the majority of common behavioral challenges that I face as an outdoor educator. They are fairly straightforward, require little explanation, and, due to their simplicity, are easy to casually bring up when gentle redirection is needed.

I have found it most effective to introduce these expectations shortly after meeting my students and make sure to include my reasoning for each behavioral standard. The immediate presentation of expectations sets the tone for the remainder of an instructor’s time with their students. Once the norms are established and understood, the instructor can reference and enforce them quickly and efficiently. Additionally, a clear explanation of the “why” in addition to the “what” can help students understand that expectations aren’t the same as rules. Instead, they are guidelines intended to promote a successful learning experience for all members of the group.

Just as each and every student has a unique learning style, each instructor has his or her own distinct teaching style. I urge educators to play around with different sets of expectations and see what works for them. When brainstorming expectations for a group, consider how the skills they are practicing can be transferred to their home communities. Participation, positivity, and P.R.O.P.S are behaviors that can (and should) be used in any setting, educational or not. If there are exceptions to your expectations, consider leaving them out. It is confusing when expectations vary based on the setting or context. Expectations are most effective when they are constant.

In sum, here is a recap of how to establish and successfully use expectations in an educational setting:

  • Create expectations that are transferrable and universal.
  • Introduce expectations early on.
  • Explain the “why” of each expectation, not just the “what”.
  • Enforce expectations and provide reminders when needed.