Communicating Expectations with Social Stories

Expectations through Social Stories

Every teacher in the history of ever will tell you that classroom management is key to any successful room. A huge part of this is communicating your expectations for your students again, and again, and again. Literally the first 2 weeks in my room is just going over WHAT and HOW they should do in my room. Does it get boring? Yep. It’s worth it though. You have to lay a firm foundation before learning can occur.

At some point, a student or more than one, will mess up and not follow the expectations. Its a wonderful learning moment. Firstly I tend to follow the Capturing Kids Hearts method by asking 3 questions (this is when I have a verbal student or when I’m teaching in a general education classroom) as part of my behavior plan but also it helps me determine if they really understand their mistake or not. If you use Capturing Kids Hearts, then check out my post about Building Rules and Setting Boundaries.

How It Works

Say I’m teaching in a kindergarten classroom. My expectation is that when I give the cue, everyone should walk to their place in line and face forward with their bubbles in their mouth. There will come a time when that’s not what happens. Someone will eventually run to the line or there will be pushing and talking. I would get attention and then have them come back to the carpet.

Pose the questions to the whole group, “What did ya’ll do when you lined up?” I’m just looking for them to tell me the wrong actions (i.e. running, pushing, talking). The next question is “What should you have done?” This is where they communicate my expectation back to me and I check understanding. The last question is a a little rhetorical but it helps to drive the point home, “What are you going to do now (when I say to line up)?” Then I have them do it all over again. If they still don’t do it, we come back and go through the process again. Yes, its frustrating. Yes, its boring. But they also clearly get the message of the expectation.

Don’t Assume Anything

One thing that happens frequently, and I do it too, is that we assume a student has been taught what is and is not appropriate. This is not always the case so before you go to the idea that a kid is just being ‘bad’ or ‘naughty’ it is worth it to question “Why?” Age old wisdom from the counseling and teaching profession is that there is always a reason for behavior. Maybe it is attention seeking or maybe it has been modeled at home. You can be sure that the child is trying to communicate something, be it an emotion they cant deal with or an concept they just don’t understand.

This is where social stories make all the difference. What happens is a kid will do a behavior and then an adult will tell them “No” and give a consequence. The issue is no one ever tell them what they should do, no clear expectation is communicated. We just take away a instilled activity without providing an alternative and that’s just not how the brain works. We need an alternate path to take and this is the beauty of social stories.

An Alternative

You go over the social story will a student, the ones in this post have pieces that they match to each short statement being read, and this tells them what they should not do and gives them other options. This isn’t going to fix it, I wish it would but that’s literally never the case. Your kid will go to his/her currently programmed response to the stimulus (i.e. the student gets frustrated or over stimulated and they throw things). You remove the projectiles and help the student calm down, their hippocampus shrinks down and cortisol shoots up in these moments so no learning can occur right now, but once they return to homeostasis then you bring out the social story again and go over expectations. Follow up with the 3 questions above to the individual student if they are verbal. You will likely have to do this several times but eventually it will take hold. It also helps if you take special notice of triggers (like changes in routine or certain situations) that cause the students behavior and give verbal reminders of the appropriate options BEFORE they have the chance to react negatively.

Remind yourself that reprogramming the mind is no easy take and will take some time. I won’t promise this will fix all your issues, they may need many more accommodations, but it is an important step in helping build a positive relationship with your students and allowing them to understand your expectations.

Published by caffeineprayers

If I listed all the things I do and am that would take a lot of space up, so lets suffice it to say that I'm expert in nothing but I do know somethings about teaching and counseling, I'm really trying to be a good Christian, and I think my kid is pretty cool.

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