Southeast Bulloch Middle School teacher, Brandon Poole, joins us to talk about setting classroom expectations at the start of the year and strategies for helping those expectations to stick around all year long.

Brandon Poole in Episode 201: Setting The Stage For Success

Southeast Bulloch Middle School teacher, Brandon Poole, joins us to talk about setting classroom expectations at the start of the year and strategies for helping those expectations to stick around all year long. 

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Ashley Mengwasser: Hello? Hello? Are you there? Is it really you? I've missed you. Welcome back to the platform for Georgia's teachers. The place educators can share and learn. We bring you Classroom Conversations Season Two. I'm your host, Ashley Mengwasser. It's great to be back. Everything here is going to be a little different this season, okay? Except we'll have the same sort of content, the same intro jingle, the same taglines, the very same format and obviously the same host. So actually, everything's pretty much the same around here. I mean, I guess we could've totally overhauled this series, but we would never. Teachers don't need more changes. Are you kidding me? But you will encounter 100% fresh voices and inspired new topics. That's something we can all get behind. As always, the presenting force behind this wonderful series is the Georgia Department of Education in partnership with Georgia Public Broadcasting. And that's where I am right now, GPB, in the same chair, behind the same microphone in the same studio. And that's how I like it. Okay. What's our premier episode about? Well, the E word. At the tipity top of season two, we're tackling a topic related to the tipity top of the school year, setting up the classroom, specifically teaching expectations. Among the top Google searches of the E word there's this, is having expectations bad? Relatable. I've got lots of questions and here to answer them is Brandon Poole from Southeast Bulloch Middle School in Bulloch County. Brandon's in his sixth year teaching seventh grade life science. Hey, Brandon.

Brandon Poole: Hey Ashley, how are you?

Ashley Mengwasser: I’m great. How are you?

Brandon Poole: I’m fantastic. Excited to be here.

Ashley Mengwasser: I’m excited to have you. I need to start with the most obvious question. What led you into the profession of teacher?

Brandon Poole: So, like so many others, I come from a really long line of educators.

Ashley Mengwasser: We hear that a lot.

Brandon Poole: My mom is a special education teacher in Banks County, which is in Northeast Georgia. And I have several relatives and cousins who are also involved in education as well. So it just came natural to me as I started thinking about careers, something that was familiar to me and my family would be education.

Ashley Mengwasser: There you go. It's in your blood. And just to get us started correctly, I want to hear two fun facts about yourself and I mean fun, Brandon. Don't let us down here. Okay?

Brandon Poole: Okay. I'll try my hardest not to. All right, so one of the biggest things that I always tell people whenever they are first getting to know me is that I really, really love to travel. Any type of new adventure or a new place to be seen, I want to see it all while I still can. So if I'm not at school, I'm usually trying to find the next far away land that I can travel to. If I could have any superpower, it would actually be to teleport because I love to travel so much.

Ashley Mengwasser: Where would you go right now? Except nowhere because you're having so much fun in the city.

Brandon Poole: I am. This is exactly where I want to be. Now if I could teleport here all the way from Statesboro, that would be fantastic.

Ashley Mengwasser: Sorry about the drive, man.

Brandon Poole: That Atlanta traffic is no joke.

Ashley Mengwasser: Welcome to our world. Where else would you go really though?

Brandon Poole: I’ve always really, really wanted to go to Australia.

Ashley Mengwasser, Australia. That was terrible. I don't know why I just did that. Kangaroos are so cute.

Brandon Poole: Yes. All the animals there, the food, the Sydney Opera House, it's just someplace that I've always wanted to go.

Ashley Mengwasser: Really can't beat it. That is a long flight, my friend. You would want teleportation for that. For sure. Okay. Second fun fact, hit me.

Brandon Poole: All right. So I actually have a little side gig outside of teaching. I actually host trivia and do some DJing on the side around Statesboro. I actually do it three nights a week. Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Every night, 7:30, you can catch me at a different restaurant cuing up all of your favorite tunes, asking you some questions, anything fun like that.

Ashley Mengwasser: Somewhere around the Statesboro area?

Brandon Poole: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: Do you have a stage name, Brandon?

Brandon Poole: So, my friend actually came up with one for me. At first, I wasn't exactly fond of it because I thought it had a negative connotation.

Ashley Mengwasser: Well, let us be the judge of that.

Brandon Poole: So, my friend, Bobby, calls me DJ Shallow Poole because my last name is Pool, but I am not shallow. I promise.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah. And in Pool terms, that is pretty cold of your friend. You may want to readjust your friend.

Brandon Poole: Yes. Thank you, Bobby, for that tremendously wonderful nickname.

Ashley Mengwasser: Savage DJ Shallow Poole. I kind of like it though.

Brandon Poole: It’s catchy. It's something easy to remember.

Ashley Mengwasser: It is. I like this. Okay. And tell us where your school is, Southeast Bulloch Middle School.

Brandon Poole: Yes. So I teach at Southeast Bulloch Middle School. It is in this booming big city of Brooklet, Georgia. Population, as of the 2020 census, was 1,704. So big time in it down there.

Ashley Mengwasser: Did you just hear yourself? This booming city, population 1,704. I love it. That's funny. Okay. Brooklet, that's near Statesboro.

Brandon Poole: It is. This is about 10 miles outside of Statesboro city limits.

Ashley Mengwasser: Okay. Bulloch county.

Brandon Poole: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: Always hitting us with the trivia, DJ Shallow Poole. I need proof of who you are though. So I want to flip the script and this time I'd like to ask you some trivia questions. You ready for this?

Brandon Poole: I don't know.

Ashley Mengwasser: Your face says no, I'm not Ashley. I didn't sign up for this. I've got three of the most popularly used trivia questions here and they should be familiar. I think you're going to know the answers to all. And if you don't, that's what teamwork is for, collaboration. You ready?

Brandon Poole: I’m ready?

Ashley Mengwasser: Question one, one of the most popular trivia questions. The first question, in the USA, what is celebrated on February 2nd and is also a film?

Brandon Poole: Groundhog Day.

Ashley Mengwasser: I knew you would know it. That should immediately trigger Bill Murray's Groundhog Day. Well done. Next question. Which weather phenomenon translates from Spanish for little boy?

Brandon Poole: El Nino.

Ashley Mengwasser: Nailed it. Two for two, Brandon. I swear I did not give him these before. Did I?

Brandon Poole: She really did not. I asked her to and she didn't do it.

Ashley Mengwasser: Okay. Here's the third, third and finally, we place our fingers on keyboards every single day, which is the only vowel on a standard keyboard that is not on the top line of letters? A stenographer would know this. Which vowel is not on the top line?

Brandon Poole: So fun fact, I never really learned typing.

Ashley Mengwasser: Really?

Brandon Poole: Yeah. I just use two fingers and I look down at it all the time, but I'm thinking A is on the middle row.

Ashley Mengwasser: It is A, and you don't even type. You must have it in your blood, this DJ life, this trivia life. Way to go.

Brandon Poole: That’s a good question. I might use that one.

Ashley Mengwasser: Use that in your class. It helps them learn. Yeah. So A is in the middle, E, I, O, U, and even Y if we're counting it, I know that's highly debated, but that is also on the top row.

Brandon Poole: All along the top. The more you know.

Ashley Mengwasser: The more you know. We A's, we do our own thing. I do believe you are at DJ Shallow Poole. So thank you for your honesty now onto today's conversation about setting up the classroom, teaching expectations. We've heard the cautionary phrase expectations are premeditated disappointments. Do you agree with that in the classroom context?

Brandon Poole: I would have to say no, not necessarily.

Ashley Mengwasser: And you're going to tell us why. So what does it mean to teach expectations? Define what that means.

Brandon Poole: So, whenever I think about expectations, I always go back to a motto that I have always seen and heard and preached to me about the part where it's true, that students don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. So for me, I want to spend that time telling the students that I definitely care about them. I want them to see that exuding from me because once you can win them over, then they're more likely to try harder for you. Teacher expectations create a reinforcing cycle. We have these set beliefs about our students growth potential and in turn, that helps shape our own actions, but in order to impact the student's overall growth, I think it's important that we have these expectations laid out for them up front so they know exactly what to do and when to do it. If you don't have that part set in stone at the very beginning of the school year, it's going to be a lot more difficult to manage and try to rope them back in after you're already through with the first few weeks of school and trying to get your classroom in control.

Ashley Mengwasser: So, expectations are really just for functionality and for imparting that you care and that you're all on the same page and you have the same shared interest?

Brandon Poole: Exactly. That's exactly right. Students crave structure. And so if we have expectations that are clear cut, then it's going to be a lot easier for them to follow through on those things because they want to prove to you that they can follow your expectations, not only just follow them or meet them, but also exceed them.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, they don't want to disappoint you.

Brandon Poole: No, not at all.

Ashley Mengwasser: I like that very much. How do you teach expectations?

Brandon Poole: So, at the very beginning of the year, that's the first thing that you have to start talking about with these students. Once you get all of the monotonous syllabus course outline and descriptions out of the way. When you start teaching expectations, I would say a minimum of at least two weeks, but for me personally, I really harp on those skills the entire month of August, even as we start diving into our introductory units, I'm still constantly reminding them of those expectations.

Brandon Poole: And this might sound crazy to some people, but I actually let my students help develop our class-wide expectations. So it might change slightly from year to year, but I think it's very important that we are giving students a voice in their education. So what I might actually start out with is just going over some generic class-wide expectations and ask them do you think that this is a reasonable expectation to have? And more times than not, they'll say yes, but I actually let our class decide at the beginning of the year, what our expectations are going to be. So that way they feel like they had a say so in it, and once they've bought into those expectations, it's a lot harder for them to break it because they've had ownership in developing that process.

Ashley Mengwasser: When do you know it's time to reteach those expectations and can you call them out when they break expectations in terms of praise versus... Tell me about that.

Brandon Poole: So, there's a saying that we use at Southeast Bulloch where we talk about public praise and private correction. So anytime that a student is doing something, the way that they're supposed to be doing it, then it's perfectly okay to praise them in front of the entire class. Let them know that they're doing something right. If there are some students who are struggling a little bit to grasp it initially, then maybe as you're walking down the hallway to the next class, maybe just pull them aside and talk to them individually.

Ashley Mengwasser: Privately. I got you. Private correction.

Brandon Poole: Yeah. You never want to do that in front of the whole class because I know for me personally if I got called out when I was a student for doing something wrong, I automatically shut down. So I never want my students to shut down because then I'm not getting the chance to develop that rapport or build that relationship with them. And if you don't do that early on, it's going to be a long road ahead of you for the next 180 days.

Ashley Mengwasser: I do not like that either. And if the whole class needs it, how do you handle and when do you handle reteaching of the expectations?

Brandon Poole: Absolutely. So, for me, the times I notice that students might need a refresher on our class expectations are any time after an extended break. So we get a week off in October for fall break. We get a weekend for Thanksgiving. We get two weeks at Christmas, Spring Break, anytime that there's a long pause in our education and it disrupts the flow of the classroom setting, anytime we come back that's the very first thing I do is remind them of our expectations. And then towards the later half of the year, I'll actually start quizzing them like who can tell me the correct way to ask if you need to sharpen a pencil? For example. And so usually that helps refresh their minds and then they're able to stay on track and get back on task.

Ashley Mengwasser: You mentioned that the development of your expectations initially at the beginning of the year is a classroom shared process. Tell me how that process goes from the moment they first come in the door at the beginning of the school year.

Brandon Poole: Yeah. So the very first day, once we get the syllabus information out of the way, that's when I tell them, "Hey guys, we're going to make our own classroom expectations and procedures." And you would be amazed that the wild stares that I get from them. They're like, "What, what are you talking about?"

Ashley Mengwasser: What does this mean?

Brandon Poole: Yeah. The teachers always just told me the rules, but I also think that there is a big difference between expectations and rules.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh?

Brandon Poole: Yes. Because rules to me are what you can do versus what you cannot do. And sometimes once you start getting too many rules in place, you're setting yourself up for disappointment because the more rules there are, I've found, more times than not, the more likely they are to break them.

Ashley Mengwasser: That rules are meant to be broken philosophy.

Brandon Poole: Exactly. Exactly. So I've found that explaining that difference between expectations and rules and procedures, help them understand just exactly what it is that we're about to do as a class. And so I just have expectations maybe some flip chart paper up around the room and we go through and we talk about them, see if they're reasonable or not. And then sometimes I see, do you think that some of these rules are a little repetitive? Could we combine them at all? And that's when they usually get on track and say yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: Streamline some things.

Brandon Poole: Yeah. Streamline some things because I've found that when it comes to expectations, you obviously want to be clear and concise, but you don't want to be so vague or have so many out there that it's hard for them to follow or to know exactly what they're expecting of you.

Ashley Mengwasser: Right And hard for everyone to enforce. So do they regard this whole process as a contract?

Brandon Poole: Yes, very much so because I actually have them sign it. Once we vote as a class on our guidelines and expectations for the year, I'll type it up in a little document and I'll print it out and I have a spot for them to sign.

Ashley Mengwasser: Really?

Brandon Poole: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: Each of their individual signatures?

Brandon Poole: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: What do you think that does for them?

Brandon Poole: To me, it just shows that they're taking it seriously and taking ownership of the class contract. And then if at any point throughout the year they're losing focus or they're not following through on that, I keep it in a file and I can always bring that out and be like, "Hey, remember back in August, we talked about this and you agreed. And here's your signature that proves it."

Ashley Mengwasser: We have fixed our signatures to this.

Brandon Poole: To me, it's a classroom legally binding document. You can't break it.

Ashley Mengwasser: Or as we call it on social media, receipts.

Brandon Poole: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes. What difference has it made in your classroom do you think having this process of clear expectations that are collaboratively agreed upon?

Brandon Poole: Oh, I think it has made all the difference in the world. For me specifically, classroom expectations and a positive classroom environment wasn't something that I always considered myself excelling in, especially early in my teaching career, but I've had some fantastic mentor teachers and administrators over the year that have really invested their time in me and provided me with resources and opportunities to where I could hone my skills and refine my craft because it does take time. You're not going to solve all of your problems overnight. So I say, just keep plugging along until you find what works for you. What works best for you may not be the exact same thing that's going to work best for your coworker across the hall. And that's okay. The saying, it takes a village to raise a child, really rings true in this aspect because if I teach over 100 students in a year, it's very possible that there might be a handful that no matter what I do, I might not reach, but I'm putting faith and trust in my coworkers that they will be able to reach them and vice versa.

Ashley Mengwasser: In their way.

Brandon Poole: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: Absolutely. What difference does this make in terms of climate in your classroom?

Brandon Poole: Oh, the climate in my classroom, I feel like, has changed significantly from when I first started teaching early in my career. Having these clear expectations for them provides them the foundation that they need to be successful for the rest of the year. And there's just simple things that I've added to my teacher toolbox over the past few years that have really allowed me to teach class with minimal disruptions or transition times. So for instance, if I am in the middle of a lecture-based presentation and a student needs to go to the bathroom, rather than just raising their hand and stopping my flow of things and saying, "Can I go to the bathroom?" We have nonverbal cues. So if they raise one finger that would represent, hey, I need to use the restroom and then I don't have to stop what I'm doing. I can just look at them and nod my head yes. And then they just quietly exit the room.

Ashley Mengwasser: Nice. Okay. Well, I want to know your exact classroom expectations, Brandon. We've teased this a lot. I got to know how you're doing business in your classroom with your students. Tell us more.

Brandon Poole: Okay.

Ashley Mengwasser: Lay it all out there.

Brandon Poole: Oh, I don't even really know where to start. So for me, my classroom expectations are pretty generally the same as a lot of other teachers. For instance, I don't really care for students talking while I'm trying to talk.

Ashley Mengwasser: Ah, an impediment to learning it would seem.

Brandon Poole: Yes. It also gets me off task as well because I have a one track mine. If I'm trying to teach something and I hear you talking about your football game last night, then I'm like, whoa because honestly, I want to talk to them about it. I want to know about it too, but that's not our focus right now. So things like that, but then also small things like a student tapping their pencil on their desk or clicking their pen.

Ashley Mengwasser: That tap, tap, tap sound.

Brandon Poole: Yes. It doesn't always necessarily bother me, but I can definitely tell that it bothers other students. So I have decided to buy the little mini containers of Play-Doh and I keep them in my teacher desk. So as I am still teaching, I don't even have to stop what I'm doing, I can just slowly reach in there and grab the Play-Doh and go and place it on their desk and they know that's their cue like, oh, I was doing something distracting because a lot of times they just need something to do with their hands.

Ashley Mengwasser: Some tactile stimulation and that's quiet at least.

Brandon Poole: Yes. And so I found that Play-Doh they're allowed to play with, but it doesn't make noise, which I have found to be a huge impediment to learning with some of the other students in the classroom.

Ashley Mengwasser: I got you. And you have lights in your room, you said.

Brandon Poole: I do.

Ashley Mengwasser: What’s that procedure?

Brandon Poole: So that's another thing that I teach at the beginning of the year is what each color light represents. So if there is a red light, that means that there is no talking whatsoever, that either I am saying something important or we're working on a silent independent assignment. If it's yellow, then they are allowed to whisper. So if it's maybe partner work with the person beside them, then that would indicate a yellow light. And then if we're doing lab work or having a class discussion, then it's on green, which means talk at a reasonable indoor level.

Ashley Mengwasser: Okay. I love it. And should teachers aim for a certain amount of expectations? Is there a number that's too many? What do you recommend?

Brandon Poole: So, I've found that the more you have, the harder it is to keep track of the progress that they're making with your class-wide expectations. So any that you can consolidate or some that are repetitive, I would just consolidate those together. For my classroom expectations, I really don't have any more than 10 to 12. Okay. I've been in some classrooms before that have as many as 20, when I was a student. I was like, "Well this is really hard to follow. Am I doing the right thing? Am I doing the wrong thing?" And then also, when I was a student, I had some teachers who didn't really have anything posted or maybe they talked about their expectations at the beginning of the year, but then that was it.

Ashley Mengwasser: You weren't reminded of what was expected.

Brandon Poole: Yeah. And so February or March rolls around and we're just all left to our own devices and that's a little chaotic.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah, I'd say. Any other expectations for your class you'd like to share with our audience?

Brandon Poole: So, another thing that I've noticed throughout my years of teaching is that several of these students sometimes have some difficulty with staying seated at their desk for a long period of time because our class periods at our school are 75 minutes long and for a 12- or 13-year-old, that can be really difficult. So my classroom is set up where it provides for a lot of flexible seating. I have what I call a Comfort Corner in the back corner of my classroom. It has a large area rug. It's got a couch, a coffee table, a bean bag chair. So if there's ever a student who seems to be fidgeting in their seat or is just dying to get up, then I'll allow them to go to the Comfort Corner.

Ashley Mengwasser: Comfort Corner. I love this.

Brandon Poole: I also use it sometimes as a positive reinforcement. So say that there's a student who has followed all of my expectations all week long. They have all their work done.

Ashley Mengwasser: Go chill in the Comfort Corner.

Brandon Poole: Yeah. You can go sit on the couch. That's perfectly fine.

Ashley Mengwasser: Nice. I love these. Well, would you regale us with some of your tips for teaching expectations, even activities that you have? I think teachers would love to know.

Brandon Poole: So, if I could impart any words of advice for teachers out there, I would say before school starts, really sit down and think about your entire school day from beginning to end. What is it that you were trying to get your students to do? What do you not want them to do? And then try to develop your policies and procedures around that because sometimes we just try to follow what the teacher next door to us is doing, but they may teach a completely different way than what you are used to. So find the style that works best for you and don't necessarily worry about what everyone else is doing. And then at the same time, early in my career, I found a lot of great tools and advice by simply visiting veteran teachers' classrooms. So if they are an expert in classroom management or developing expectations, I would just ask them, I would shoot them an email.

Ashley Mengwasser: Go shadow.

Brandon Poole: Yeah. There's nothing wrong with that. And most teachers I know are more than happy to allow you to come in and see how their classroom is running. If you're too shy or uncomfortable to do that, there is a world of resources out there on the internet. I'm a member of a couple of different teacher Facebook groups. You can find things on Pinterest, anything that you want, it's out there.

Ashley Mengwasser: Get your creative juices flowing. You're right, that's a long class time, 75 minutes. And what transitions do you offer them in terms of breaking up the class? Is there anything you do to give them a break?

Brandon Poole: Yes. Because 75 minutes is such a long amount of time for students in this age group, I try to make sure that I limit the amount of time that I'm just standing up and talking in front of them.

Ashley Mengwasser: Lecturing is the word.

Brandon Poole: Yeah. Lecturing. I don't want to lecture to them for 75 minutes straight. I don't want to sit there on a slideshow or presentation and have them copy in notes for 75 minutes straight.

Ashley Mengwasser: Right, no one task.

Brandon Poole: So, I try to incorporate a variety of opportunities for my students. And then sometimes, especially after lunchtime, it's just something about once their stomachs are full, they get really tired and I do too. If I'm sitting still for too long, I just want to lay my head down and take a nap. So I'll have the class stand up and stretch. We'll do some brain break activities. So something not necessarily related to what we're talking about, but just something to wake them up a little bit. So for the next 30 seconds, jog in place or for the next 30 seconds, try to patch your head while rubbing your stomach. It's simple things like that that allow them just the opportunity to move and get-

Ashley Mengwasser: Kinetic energy out.

Brandon Poole: Yeah.

Ashley Mengwasser: Like the seventh inning stretch.

Brandon Poole: Absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: That is so needed. You're so transparent, Brandon. So I'd love to hear if you would, any mistakes you may have made along the way that you want fellow educators to avoid, pitfalls that you encountered in terms of developing your expectations with students. Do you have any? No mistakes were made.

Brandon Poole: Tons of mistakes were made, tons. I'm just trying to think of the ones that I want to share. So early in my teaching career, I did what some of my teachers did and I didn't even realize that it was happening was that at the very beginning of the year, I went over the syllabus, the expectations and then I just rolled right into the content. Never looked back, never went back and rehearsed it, never practiced it or modeled it, so students would know exactly what I'm talking about. So one mistake that I made that I wouldn't want other teachers to make, you've got to make sure that you are constantly circling back around to these expectations because 12 and 13 year olds forget so easily.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, that's a good point. It's a living, breathing document.

Brandon Poole: Yes. So for the students, I explain the procedure. I tell them the correct way to do it, how not to do it. And then I'll get a volunteer out of the class to show me what it is that I'm expecting of them.

Ashley Mengwasser: Demonstrate.

Brandon Poole: Yeah, modeling that. I think that the more that you model these expectations, the more likely they are to get it and follow through with it.

Ashley Mengwasser: That’s good advice. Thank you for sharing that, Brandon. We appreciate it. Well, that is a wrap for DJ Shallow Poole. How do you say goodbye to your trivia audience? Do you have a special sign off?

Brandon Poole: Yes, I do.

Ashley Mengwasser: Can we hear it?

Brandon Poole: Yes. But let me try to fit it into our podcast. Thank you guys so much for coming out to the GPB studios today. My name is DJ Shallow Poole. You don't have to go home yet, but please be safe when you do. And we will see you again, same time, same place next week.

Ashley Mengwasser: And that actually rings true for this. Thank you DJ Shallow Pool.

Brandon Poole: So, I get to come back next week?

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah, we'll bring you back.

Brandon Poole: Okay. I'll work on my teleporting skills.

Ashley Mengwasser: I love that. We need it. Thank you for listening into Classroom Conversations, the platform for Georgia's teachers. We've got a lot more coming your way in season two and on theme with the second season. I only have two expectations Brandon, for our audience. Do you want to hear what they are?

Brandon Poole: Absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: As we've learned from you, it is better to set them early, so here are my expectations. One is that you'll stick with us for all the goodness in store. And secondly, that you'll remember the salient truth fueling the series, which is you're a great teacher. Talk to you soon. Funding for Classroom Conversations is made possible through the School Climate Transformation Grant.