Teacher Expectations of Students' Classroom Behavior across the Grade Span: Which Social Skills Are Necessary for Success?

Article excerpt

As children and youth progress across the grade span, they are expected to meet teachers' expectations regarding academic performance, behavioral decorum, and social interactions. For example, teachers expect students to attend to and follow directions, make their assistance needs known in an appropriate fashion, ignore peer distractions when working, and manage conflicts with peers and adults (Hersh & Walker, 1983; Kerr & Zigmond, 1986; Lane, Pierson, & Givner, 2003). Moreover, teachers of all students, kindergarten through 12th grade, expect students to demonstrate self-control and cooperation skills (Gresham, Dolstra, Lambros, McLaughlin, & Lane, 2000; Lane, Givner, & Pierson, 2004; Lake, Pierson, & Givner, 2004). When students fail to meet these expectations, they are often at heightened risk for a range of undesirable outcomes such as strained relationships with peers and adults, referrals to the school site disciplinarian, missed instructional time and content, referrals to the prereferral intervention process, and assignment to alternative settings (Fuchs et al., 1990; Lane, Mahdavi, & Borthwick-Duffy, 2003). Furthermore, students who are nonresponsive to interventions generated by the prereferral intervention teams or who continue to be unsuccessful in meeting their teachers' expectations may be referred for assessment to determine special educational eligibility (Lane, Mahdavi et al.). Negative outcomes may also extend beyond the instructional setting including substance abuse, chaotic personal lives, and limited or absent postsecondary educational experiences (Edgar, 1992; Wagner, D'Amico, Marder, Newman, & Blackorby, 1992). Thus, the consequences of not meeting teachers' expectations may result in a variety of pejorative outcomes within and beyond the school setting.

Although many students begin their early school experiences with the necessary skills and experiences that promote adaptive relationships with peers and adults, other students may be less prepared to meet teacher expectations for a variety of reasons. First, students may simply be unaware of teachers' expectations either because the teachers' expectations differ from parental expectations in the home setting or because teachers are unclear or inconsistent in reinforcing their expectations (Lane, Pierson, & Givner, 2004). Second, teachers may not be aware of their own expectations for student behavior and that expectations vary across different groups of teachers (Brophy, 1986, 1996). Third, expectations may change as students progress through the grade levels, particularly as students transition from elementary to middle school (Blyth, Simmons, & Carlton-Ford, 1983; Seidman, Allen, Mitchell, & Feinman, 1994) and from middle to high school (Isakson & Jarvis, 1999). These transitions are characterized by an increased emphasis on independent learning and a heightened importance of peer relationships (Isakson & Jarvis). Finally, expectations may be different at schools serving populations with varying degrees of risk or in communities with varying degrees of affluence (Walker, Ramsey, & Gresham, 2004).

Given the negative outcomes potentially confronting students who fail to meet teachers' expectations and the fact that students may fail to meet teacher expectations for a variety of reasons, the requirements or expectations that teachers have for student behavior across the grade span need to be dearly understood. This information on teachers' expectations may be used in at least four ways. First, it may be used to inform school-wide intervention efforts such as multilevel, positive behavior support (PBS) programs. In a recent study by Lane, Wehby, Robertson, and Barton-Arwood (2005), three high schools that were participating in a federally-funded grant to study PBS at the secondary level participated in a yearlong training program to design site-specific PBS plans. As part of the training process, PBS teams from each school surveyed each of their faculties to identify specific skills that their teachers viewed as essential for school success. …