Can I expect students who have disabilities to follow the same classroom rules as other students?

It is critical to have high expectations for all students, including your student who has a disability, and not alter expectations, rules, and guidelines unless there is an identified need in the student's Individual Education Plan (IEP). Any change in expectations for student behavior is determined through the IEP process and should be explicitly stated through a student goal or as an accommodation in the student's IEP.

Factual Information

Maintaining appropriate high expectations sends the message to a student who has a disability that he or she is capable and that a disability does not interfere with his or her ability to learn the curriculum. Such a message lets the student know that he or she can participate in all aspects of the learning environment and interact with others to establish relationships.

In order to understand where to set expectations for students, it is important to know each student's strengths as well as his or her needs. If you have any questions about what is expected of a student who has disabilities assigned to your classroom, communicate your uncertainty to the student's team or to the student's case manager. Some students are effective advocates for their own needs and accommodations and they can communicate with you about what they can do and where they need support. Be a good observer to learn about what a student can do and for areas in which the student needs support.

It is also important to understand and be aware of your own attitudes toward disabilities and to reflect on how these attitudes may influence the expectations you set for students. Examine your own experiences and how they may relate to your interactions with students who have disabilities. Do not hesitate to ask questions of parents and other team members to set appropriate expectations.

An important thing to keep in mind is that your classroom is a part of the entire school and that recent research has shown how effective school-wide approaches to behavior can be. One such approach is the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) system from the Office of Special Education Programs. School-wide systems like PBIS take a proactive approach to discipline and provide educators with strategies for defining, teaching, and supporting the student behaviors that create a positive environment for learning.

Classroom Activities

  • Reflect on the expectations that you have for any student who has disabilities assigned to your classroom. Unless the student's Individual Education Plan (IEP) directs otherwise, do you expect the same thing from a student who has disabilities as other students in your classroom?
  • If you are comfortable with peer observations, have a colleague visit your classroom and provide you with his or her observations about the expectations you have for the different students in your classroom.


Discuss with your colleagues the issue of setting expectations for students. What are the issues your colleagues struggle with surrounding expectations for students? Are there ways in which you and your colleagues can support one another in holding all students to high expectations?

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