Maximizing structure helps make the most of each school day and proactively sets the stage for student success. The ideal environment is one in which students and staff can efficiently and effectively meet their expectations for the day. We’ll take a look at the five components of how to best maximize structure to create an environment conducive to positive classroom outcomes. 

Structure in the Classroom 

There are three types of structure to maximize in the classroom and in the school: 

  • Physical Structure: Classroom furniture and intentional seating, materials, layout of the building, optimal staff location 
  • Décor: Should reflect academic and behavioral expectations, visual reminders, and schedule 
  • Embedded Structure: The routines and procedures that make up the daily happenings across the school and in each classroom 

Setting Up Schedules 

Three types of schedules can help build a comprehensive structure to support student success. Schedules range from general to specific, depending on students’ level of need: 

  • Whole School Schedule: These schedules identify communal times across the school, promote awareness of and involvement in school events, and ensure cooperative sharing of spaces and resources, such as a gym for physical education. 
  • Classroom Schedule: Outlined classroom routines identify staff roles throughout the day, create fluid transitions between rotations, maximize academic engagement, and promote awareness of and independence with whole class activities and rotations. 
  • Individual Schedules: Student-centric schedules provide an opportunity for students to take responsibility for their own movements throughout the day and track the passage of time during the school day.

Following thorough, multi-dimensional schedules with consistency supports student independence and staff accountability. 

Establishing Student Expectations 

Supporting student competence and confidence is important; staff can help by establishing and operationally defining behavioral expectations across all domains, including:  

  • Social Skills: Expectations for interactions with peers and staff 
  • Academic Engagement: Expectations for interactions with academic materials and lessons 
  • Environmental Interactions: Expectations for interactions with and maneuvering within school environments and spaces. 

The foundation of students’ academic and behavioral success begins by establishing, operationally defining, and then teaching concrete, high, and achievable expectations. Staff and students should refer to the expectations frequently throughout the day. 

Teaching Student Expectations 

Operationally defining student expectations and creating relevant visuals are the first steps in improving student behavior and engagement. The next steps are: 

  • Reinforcing Appropriate Behaviors: Recognizing appropriate behaviors with behavior-specific praise (and additional, more overt reinforcers, like tangibles or activities) increases the likelihood of repetition. 
  • Modeling Appropriate Behaviors: Students observe staff actions and hear their words; ensure those words and actions support and mirror student expectations. 
  • Engaging in Aligned Activities and Projects: Facilitating multi-modal projects and activities that allow students to present, explore, and even teach behavioral expectations increases buy-in and awareness. 

When explicit teaching of expectations is followed up with reinforcement, repetition, and dynamic materials, student behavior and engagement can flourish. 

Generalizing Expectations 

The goal of all successful special education schools and classrooms should be for students to generalize appropriate behavior to their larger community, including homes, recreational settings, stores, and future job placements. We can support this during our teaching by using: 

  • Contrived Situations: Creating situations within the school setting where students need to exhibit expected behavior to accomplish tasks. 
  • Scenario Reviews: During academic activities, such as social skill lessons and exploration of reading assignments, identifying scenarios that can analyze and discuss in terms of behavioral expectations. 
  • Community Involvement: Exposing students to community settings and events to practice appropriate behavior with staff support amid unknown and uncontrolled variables. 

Supporting student growth and success beyond the school environment creates productive members of society and allows for the highest quality of life for each individual.

Stay tuned for March’s Behavior Tip of the Month!