To a certain extent, rules are negative and expectations are positive. Students hate rules. In courses for school crisis intervention, instructors recommend not saying the word rule because it will incite or escalate the situation. Rules restrict freedom. The word rule is generally associated with the word obey and no person is ever comfortable with obeying another person.
Since rules are negative and generally focus on what we do not want to see, most administrators and teachers try to limit the number of rules they have in school and class. Students are not told all of the things we would like to see them learn and do, but are only told a few things that they should not do. This sets very low expectations.
In the introduction, the very positive results of using problem solving in an alternative school were presented. Although problem solving was responsible for most of the success at this school, there was another major factor involved. This factor was changing student expectations. Initially, the school's culture was more of a psychiatric treatment center than a regular school. The focus was on behavior, not academics. More time was spent on punishing than teaching. The choice was to expect treatment center behavior or regular school behavior. The school chose to focus on teaching and academics. The bar was raised to requiring a grade of 75 or higher in every class in order to be eligible to return to the regular campus. Roles for the students were defined to be one of a successful learner, not a seriously emotionally disturbed adolescent. Although the change took time, it worked.
In another example at a state mental hospital, the Director of the school program described her school as having chaos instead of order. Their two classrooms were continuously disrupted by aggressive behaviors and the staff would subdue the students (patients) and take them back to their rooms. Like the alternative school, she decided to change the expectations for her program. She painted the entry wall to look like the front of a school building. She replaced the tables and beanbag chairs with desks. She made it look and feel like a real school. She reported that she now had student behavior in the classrooms even though they still had mental hospital behavior outside the classroom. What you expect from the students is what you will get!
If we focus on what we want the students to learn and do, we end up with a long list of learning outcomes (academic and social) that we want our students to master. We choose the positive side - goals and high expectations. This positive view has a profound effect on the school culture. The task becomes one of what expectations do we need to set for students to see a school expecting great things for each student versus obeying school rules.
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