Top 10 List for Day 1 Header

Out with the old, in with the new. Last year is gone, and this year is here. The new year brings promise, hope, and grumbles as we struggle to remember the correct date. It also brings the spring semester! Soon we’ll step into classrooms filled with eager new students.

My first blog post in August talked about how new beginnings can be riddled with anxiety for teachers and students alike. (Remember the dreaded room of eyes and judgment)? And, no pressure, but people form first impressions in 1/10th of a second (Willis and Todorov 2006).


I also provided some suggestions for getting your class off to a good start. Then I wondered what other people (actual experts) had to say about the subject. So, I scoured the internet. There was a lot of helpful advice, but I boiled it down to:


#10. Begin establishing (and communicating) expectations.
#9. Ditto.
#8. Ditto.
#7. Ditto.
#6. Ditto.
#5. Ditto.
#4. Ditto.
#3. Ditto.
#2. Ditto.
#1. Sternly read syllabus out loud and dismiss class early. (Just kidding)!
The real #1. Ditto.

Okay, this list might be a *slight* oversimplification. But seriously, aligning expectations can pave the way for a smooth semester.

What’s behind that door?

Students walk into class with their heads full of questions. What’s this class about? What’s my teacher like? Can I sit next to my friends? Will I have to work in groups? Will I regret having that jumbo burrito and Trenta®* coffee?

Pixabay, BRAG (CC0 1.0)

Teachers also walk into class with their heads full of questions. What kind of students are in my class? What level of pre-existing knowledge do they have? How will they respond to me? Will I regret having that jumbo burrito and Trenta®* coffee?
*916 mL, and one size above the Venti®.

Humans wonder (and usually worry) about the unknown.

Why do people create expectations?

An expectation is defined as ‘a strong belief that something will happen or be the case’ (Oxford Online Dictionary). In a sense, creating expectations is a way of predicting (and perhaps trying to control) the future. We predict likely outcomes based on factors like past experience, current stimuli, probability, etc. Then we make decisions. The future becomes the present. Was our expectation met? Or not? Either way, we learn something (Schultz et al. 1997, Hyman et al. 2017).

Expectations alter our perception of reality (Nitschke et al. 2006, Sarinopoulos et al. 2006, Cook 2012). Mind over matter. The placebo effect. Pain in phantom limbs. How good something tastes. These are expectations at work.

Expectations alter our perception of reality.

Expectations are no joke. Our survival depends on our ability to successfully adapt to change. Our brains are wired to create expectations, and respond to (learn from) the resulting feedback. Even babies use expectations to learn (Emberson et al. 2015, Patenaude 2015).

The consequences of expectations gone awry

Note that expectations can relate to desired (positive) or undesired (negative) outcomes, or as Miceli and Castelfranchi (2002) call them, ‘hope-casts’ and ‘fear-casts.’ If outcomes meet our expectations, it’s all good. If they don’t…watch out!

Unspoken, miscommunicated, misunderstood, unmet, or mis-matched expectations cause problems. Confusion. Disappointment. Fear. Resentment. Anger. Pain. Conflict.

Imagine these scenarios:

  • Negative expectation met: It’s a test day. We have a test. Meh.
  • Positive expectation met: It’s not a test day. We don’t have a test. Yay!
  • Negative expectation not met: It’s a test day. We don’t have a test. Huh? (all students) + Triple yay! (students who didn’t study) + Mega-griping (students who did study).
  • Positive expectation not met: It’s not a test day. We have a test. WWIII erupts.

Aligning expectations – the key to success?

I would argue that virtually everything you do on day one addresses expectations in some way – whether you intend to or not. What are your expectations of the students? What are their expectations of you, and of each other? Dr. Bruce Johnson has an interesting post on managing expectations from a student perspective.

Many expectations are laid out in the syllabus (content, learning objectives, assessments, grading, office hours, etc.). Other expectations are conveyed by your (and the students) actions and behavior. For example, an icebreaker might establish the expectation that knowing about your peers is valuable, discussion is important, students need to talk and interact, the class is founded on mutual respect, etc. It takes time for class culture to develop, but the first few days can set the tone.

Students doing a icebreaker activity
Wikimedia commons, JmpathI95 (CC BY-SA 4.0)

One way I address expectations about my personality is by showing students a photo of me in fifth grade. Imagine a gawpy kid sporting blue and yellow tennis-shoes, flared white slacks, jean jacket, HUGE glasses, a mullet, and an inch-wide athletic headband. Think Ralph Macchio in Karate Kid meets Jodie Foster in Candleshoe.

Yes, the entire class laughed at me. Fantastic! Now they know I’m an approachable human being with a sense of humor (and wicked fashion sense).

There are an infinite number of things you can do on day one. Set your class up for success by mindfully establishing and communicating expectations.

Chin up!

The Transformed Teacher

Apple with The Transformed Teacher written on it

The Transformed Teacher is a faculty member who took a bold step out from behind highly detailed lecture notes and a gigantic podium into the teaching-verse, which is a magical place filled with helpful tips, tools, and teachers.

As I learn more about teaching, I find I’m significantly better than I was before, and a lot less neurotic. In fact, sometimes teaching is downright fun. Imagine that.


Cook G. 2012. How the power of expectations can allow you to ‘bend reality.’ Scientific American. October 16, 2012.

Emberson LL, Richards JE, Aslin RN. 2015. Top-down modulation in the infant brain: Learning-induced expectations rapidly affect the sensory cortex at 6 months. PNAS 112(31): 9585-9590. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1510343112

Hyman JM, Holroyd CB, Seamans JK. 2017. A novel neural prediction error found in anterior cingulate cortex ensembles. Neuron. 95: 447-456.

Miceli M, Castelfranchi C. 2002. The mind and the future: the (negative) power of expectations. Theory & Psychology. 12(3): 335-366.

Nitschke JB, Dixon GE, Sarinopoulos I, Short SJ, Cohen JD, Smith EE, Kosslyn SM, Rose RM, Davidson RJ. 2006. Altering expectancy dampens neural response to aversive taste in primary taste cortex. Nature Neuroscience 9: 435–442.

Oxford Online Dictionary.

Patenaude M. 2015. Expectations help shape babies’ brains. Science and Technology.

Sarinopoulos I, Dixon GE, Short SJ, Davidson RJ, Nitschke JB. 2006. Brain mechanisms of expectation associated with insula and amygdala response to aversive taste: Implications for placebo. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. 20(2): 120-132.

Schultz W, Dayan P, Montague PR. 1997. A neural substrate of prediction and reward. Science. 275(5306): 1593-1599. DOI: 10.1126/science.275.5306.1593

Trenta,® Venti.® Starbucks Corporation.

Willis J, Todorov A. 2006. First Impressions: making up your mind after a 100-ms exposure to a face. Psychological Science. 17(7): 592-598.

Check out my previous posts:

3 nuggets of wisdom for dealing with end-of-semester ‘feedback.’
5 steps to changing behavior.
Stuck in the middle (of the semester) with me.
Group work (pt. 1): Let’s get real.
Justifying just makes life easier.
Say something. Anything. Please…?
Changing educational pain to pleasure.

KeywordsThe Transformed Teacher, OTL Blog   Doc ID131391
OwnerLinda C.GroupIT Knowledge Base
Created2023-09-13 06:47:28Updated2024-07-09 10:06:51
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