Teaching expectations in the bathroom: FAQ

Title Text: Teaching expectations in the bathroom. Closed pastel color bathroom stall doors in the background.

-by Timothy (Tim) Grivois, Ed.D., Executive Director

Let’s talk about the bathroom! In most schools, the bathroom tends to generate many discipline referrals. Students often don’t report most of what happens in the bathroom since the bathroom is often a place students go to be beyond adult supervision.

When PBIS teams write lesson plans to teach expected behaviors in the bathroom, these three questions often come up. Here are the questions and the best counsel I have to share:

What if our school values don’t seem to ‘fit’ the bathroom?

Often, talking about school values in the bathroom can feel awkward. After all, how do you demonstrate “Pride” or “Curiosity” in the bathroom?

When you have a school value that seems out of place in the bathroom, you have two options:

Option 1: Ignore it. If your team cannot think of a way for students to demonstrate a value on your matrix in the bathroom, leave it blank. So long as you’ve made what matters most explicit, you can probably safely leave this box blank.

Option 2: Reframe it. Sometimes, values that seem out of place in the bathroom connect to our greatest aspirations for our students. For example, Ha:San Charter School, a school serving indigenous students, has pride as a school-wide value. In the bathroom, Ha:San demonstrates pride by using the bathroom to make positive choices to promote their well-being. Therefore, choosing to vape in the bathroom is not an example of pride because it does not promote well-being.

Should we teach students how to flush, where to stand when using the urinal, how to use the sanitary receptacles, and how to wash hands?

Yes. Not understanding how to use the equipment in the space is typically the main reason things go wrong. Teach students with a direct, no-nonsense, developmentally appropriate tone of voice exactly how people are supposed to use the equipment in the bathroom.

Hint: Humor goes a long way and makes these lessons memorable for students. And, what students remember is what they tend to do.

Do we have to go into the bathrooms?

Yes. We must teach skills in the setting where we expect students to demonstrate the skills. For example, seeing how long it takes to dry hands under the electric dryer matters more to students than telling them to dry their hands in class. Assign a few staff members who can enter any bathroom students use to teach these lessons.

Teach students what you want to see. Be explicit about what you don’t.

Even (and especially) in the bathroom, we can’t be surprised when unexpected behaviors happen in a place where we haven’t taught expected behaviors explicitly. Make sure your expectations are clear and have taught them in the same space you want students to demonstrate them.

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