Many teachers often spend the first days of school working with students to set norms and expectations for the year. This is very helpful because it lays the foundation for a strong classroom culture where students feel safe to learn and make mistakes along the way. This is equally important for me in my role as a teacher specialist. I frequently go into classrooms to teach a lesson where I’ve never met the students before (and likely won’t see them again). So, if I’m going to set norms and expectations, I have extremely limited time to do so.

A fair question is whether this is even necessary at all if I’m only doing a single lesson. I believe that it is, because when kids start breaking norms and acting inappropriately, I will spend far more time trying to regain control, if I am even able to at all. So, over the years I have developed a roughly 30-second speech that I use to preempt any potential classroom management issues and set the expectations for the day. Here it is:

Hi. My name is Mr. Kaplinsky. I’m here today because we want to hear how you think about mathematics. I have only one rule, and it’s a respect rule. Do you know how when you raise your hand to ask a question, sometimes you get nervous and your heart starts beating faster?

(Students nod their heads yes)

How would it feel if someone made fun of you for what you said? Would you ever want to raise your hand again?

(Students shake their heads no)

So, if any of you make someone else feel uncomfortable, we’re going to have a conversation about it. Ok?

It’s short and deals with about 70% of the issues ahead of time. In many cases, I won’t have to do anything else beyond that. About 25% of the time, I’ll have someone laugh or make fun of others out of habit, and then I’ll immediately need to address it. To be clear, I am not saying laughter is bad. I’m saying that the kind of behavior that comes at another student’s expense is bad. So, if I don’t address it, then students will realize I’m just talk and that my words don’t mean much.

The remaining 5% of the time happens when I have someone who requires more… individualized… classroom management. I remind myself that all kids (and adults) just want to be happy, accepted, and loved. Some children either don’t get enough or have learned that they can also get these feeling from their peers for being a distraction.

In these situations, I will pull the student aside (before class if I know of this kid’s reputation and rarely during class if I find out mid-lesson) and give the student a short private additional talk.
The core ideas of what I say are:

  • I know that other kids in the class see the student as a leader.
  • The student should want the other students to respect him or her for being the right kind of leader.
  • I think today’s lesson is going to be something that the student will enjoy.
  • I’ll be looking to the student to be a positive role model.

Then during class if this particular student does anything positive, I quickly compliment it. For example, “I really love how ____________ is writing out his/her strategies.”  This has the amazing effect of making it so that many other students want to follow the student’s lead and emulate the same positive behaviors so that they can earn recognition.

Will this completely prevent discipline issues with every student? No.

Will this completely prevent discipline issues when there are multiple disruptive students? No.

Could it make it so the lesson is more likely to be a positive experience? Certainly.

I hope this has been helpful for you. Do you have a similar speech you make with your students? How do you ensure that your classroom is a safe place? Please let me know in the comments.


  1. Hi Robert,

    I am from the University of Illinois preparing to begin my semester in Student Teaching. Did this short speech always work even when you were just beginning in the field of education? If not, what to you do to address those issues that occurred? Also, are there times even now where you have faced a classroom that does not buy into the 30 second speech?


    • Hmm, I can’t see why this wouldn’t work as a new teacher either. I didn’t use it at the beginning of my career because I didn’t know any better.

      Yes, there are plenty of times where lessons still blow up in my face. This doesn’t solve all problems, but for me it has solved the vast majority of them. For example, if there are many, many kids who constantly need your attention, this won’t be much help.

  2. Robert,

    I agree that so much negative behavior can be prevented by establishing norms right away. I feel beginning teachers need more that just the 30 second speech although it is a great start. Do you have any specific tips for new teachers? Additionally to you have any tips for the challenging middle school grades?

    • I 100% echo Robert’s main point at whatever level we’re teaching: love our kids…and by my experience as a middle school teacher, it’s CRITICAL at the middle school level…middle school development is most heavily influenced by personal relationships. When you’re a vulnerable and uncomfortable (pre)teen dealing with the “changes,” your biggest need is to know at any moment that you’re loved and you’re enough, and that the teachers in your life can be trusted to look out for you.

      I have no problem sacrificing instructional time for an intentional non-academic activity or discussion to remind my middle schoolers that I care about them, and that each of them is important and valued. Whatever instructional time I sacrifice on the front end will always pay dividends in the end because they’ll trust me later when I challenge them and ask for their commitment.

  3. I have simplified mine over the years.
    Be curious. Be kind.
    We talk about what those things mean to the kids and to me. We discuss what those both look like and sound like.

    If curiosity is valued, questions and challenges are expected. If kindness is values, students know to expect it and to give it.

    We’ll see how these abbreviated expectations play out, but I think they will cover 95% of classroom climate concerns!

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