How Walt Disney Would Manage Your Classroom: Part Two

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Disclaimer: I (Dr. Lori Friesen) have no affiliation with Disney, and all of the opinions and ideas I’m sharing in this blog and podcast are my own.

Now... on to the super fun stuff. πŸ˜‰

Episode Show Notes:

I want you to imagine that it’s a bright, sunny, summer day, and you have just entered Disneyland.

You can feel the anticipation and excitement in every fiber of your being...

It's like you are lit up from the inside because you just KNOW what an amazing day this is going to be. πŸ’•

How do theme parks, and especially Disneyland, do this?

How do they have this almost magical way of making you want to go back there again the moment you leave?

Why is it so energizing, and why do we look forward to going there so much?

Why are we willing to spend, in many cases, upwards of $100 dollars of our well-earned money for the privilege of spending time at the park?

Yes, of course – there are the rides, and the food, and the fun – what feels like the magic.

But this is part of the incredible design of theme parks.

Walt Disney was a genius, because once we pull back the veil, we realize that all of that – the rides and the princesses - are actually only the icing on the experience.

If you haven’t listened to last week’s episode where I talked about the first element of what we can learn from theme parks about classroom management mastery, I highly recommend that you go back and listen to that one first, because in that episode I explain that the first element is the way theme parks, and especially Walt Disney, creates a “Legendary Lay-Out.”

This is the first and foundational element, and once you have established your own Legendary Lay-Out for your classroom, you can build on that foundation with the second element - “Establishing Energizing Expectations.”

Now, what does that mean? Establishing energizing expectations?

It means that on a fundamental level, we look forward to going to Disneyland because we know it is a good and safe, child and family- friendly environment.

We are able to really relax while we are there because we are all involved in a social contract where we clearly understand and are willing to play by the rules and expectations as guests.

Let’s break down what that means: 

What are some of the rules and expectations at Disneyland?

Well, we know what the rules are, because they are clearly posted at the entrance:

The park opens at a particular time and closes at a specific time every day.

There are no pets allowed (except service animals, of course).

There is a clear dress code (people can be turned away for inappropriate attire because this is a family park).

Smoking is only allowed in designated areas.

Children must be supervised at all times.

You must be a certain height before you are allowed to ride on the roller coaster.

And, we know what the expectations are:

You will see princesses, heroes, and all of your favorite characters in some way, and you can take them home with you, too, with only a brief stop at a gift shop. 😊

Your favorite rides are absolutely worth the wait, no matter how long it is (it’s incredible – when I was doing some of the research for this podcast, I found out that there are entire websites dedicated to ride wait times at Disneyland)!

Sugary, deep-fried treats are suddenly and magically now welcome additions to your diet and do not have any calories at all, because you’re at Disneyland.

And here’s the big expectation: You will enjoy a temporary escape from reality, and from all of your problems, and you will somehow remember and be transported to all that is magical and good and possible in the world.

Those are the rules and expectations, right?

And it doesn’t matter if you want to go earlier or stay later, because the park opens and closes at these times.

It won’t stay open just because you really want it to!

It also doesn’t matter if you have a pet monkey, they are not allowed here.

We all need to stand in line and wait our turn to go on our favorite rides (unless you have a FASTPASS).

And it doesn’t matter how cute your daughter is, she may not ride on the roller coaster if she isn’t taller than this line.

The point is that just like everywhere else we go in society, even though this is an amazing theme park, we accept - and expect- that there are rules that we need to abide by.

These are the rules in Disneyland, and in order for this to be an enjoyable, safe experience for everyone, we need to accept and abide by them.

Can you imagine if the rules were different each time we went?

If today, it was fine if people skipped ahead in line, brought alcohol in their bags, and occasionally came in riding their pet horse?

Can you imagine what Disneyland would be like if there were NO rules?

Little kids would be flying off the teacups because they were too little to be harnessed in, there would be women walking around in skimpy bikinis, and people would be smoking right by your kids.


It sounds ridiculous, but that’s because this would NEVER be allowed at Disneyland, because we know that this is a safe, good place to take children.

We take for granted how much these rules contribute to our feeling of safety for a consistent and positive experience while we are in the park. We all know and accept the rules, and we feel safe knowing that security will reinforce them. 

What happens if we break one of the rules?

There will be consequences, including being fined or asked to leave.

But when we follow the rules and expectations, we are ensured an effortless, enjoyable experience (except maybe when you’ve ridden your favorite ride too many times and feel like you are going to throw up).

This is the social contract we agreed to when we entered the park, and it is one of the ways that theme parks can ensure an enjoyable experience for all of their guests – by reinforcing the rules they have established.

I think you already know where I’m going with this.

As teachers, we need to take a page out of Disney’s books and realize that the clearer we are about the rules and expectations we have for our students in our classrooms, and the more consistently we deliver consequences for breaking them, the more effortless and enjoyable our daily classroom experiences can be.

If you don’t have clearly defined rules and expectations that your students have been taught and had opportunity to master, then you will likely struggle with classroom management for much of the year because you are going to be asked a dozen of the same questions every single day about what is allowed and what is not, which will cause everyday confusion and contribute to that low grade stress we talked about in Part One of this series.

Walt Disney is a master at establishing energizing expectations.

What happens when you first come into Disneyland?

Usually, the first thing you are offered is a map because, again, as we talked about in Part One of this series, Disney was a master at creating Legendary Lay-Outs so his guests know where to find everything they need and want.

But the second thing you are usually given is what?

A schedule of the special events that are happening in the park.

Because Walt Disney knows that we want to know: When is the princess parade? What time is the Fantasmic show and where is it happening?

So what do we do? We mentally start planning and mapping out our day around the events we really don’t want to miss. (If you haven’t already done that the day before – some people take their day at a theme park VERY seriously).

We even plan which rides to go on when because we really want to see that particular show at 2:00 pm.

And what would happen if when we got there, the show was suddenly cancelled?

How upset would we get if we had literally just raced across the entire park, skipping another ride that we wanted to go on, because we wanted to make sure we got a seat for this show, and then it didn’t even happen?

It just wouldn’t happen at Disney, right?

And if for any reason anything was being cancelled, they would let their guests know well in advance.

Take a page out of Disney theme park design mastery as it applies to your classroom: Our students have the right to a clear schedule.

They have a right to know what is happening when.

They have the right to know that you are a professional - that you are prepared and that you have carefully and intelligently thought through the day, and that they can trust you to let them know if there are going to be any changes.

Because just like we do, they count on certain things happening.

They need to know when their breaks are – when their favorite (and least favorite) subjects are, when recess and lunch are happening, and especially, what they can look forward to each day.

AND - having a schedule, rules and expectations that are consistently reinforced in your classroom has NOTHING to do with you wanting to be liked by your students.

We LOVE theme parks, especially Disneyland, and we fully expect there to be a schedule, rules and a social contract when we go there.

Your students also expect there to be rules in your classroom that are consistently reinforced, that’s how they feel safe - just like there are rules for everywhere else they go in society.

So, as this applies to your classroom, do you have:

  • 3-5 rules clearly posted in your classroom where all of your students can see them.

  • Rules that are written in developmentally appropriate language. 

  • Have you THOROUGHLY EXPLAINED each of your class rules to your students?

  • Have you PRACTICED each of your class rules with your students? In other words, do they know what these rules actually mean and look like when they are in practice in your classroom?

Do you have a daily schedule, and clear routines that you have taught, practiced, and consistently reinforced for your students? 

For example:

  • A schedule clearly posted for your students
  • Use of playground equipment
  • Use of the rest room
  • Use of the water fountain
  • Use of the pencil sharpener
  • Work that is missed due to absences

These are just some of the routines that both you and your students need to get clear on and to practice in order for both you and your students to have an effortless, energizing, daily experience in your classroom.

Because once your students know what is expected of them and how things work in your room, you won’t be interrupted every lesson with the words “I don’t have a pencil,” or “Who gets to use the playground equipment today?” or “My mom wants to know what I missed when I was sick yesterday” or whatever else you get asked on a daily or weekly basis because you haven’t decided and communicated a routine for exactly what you want and expect for each of these circumstances.

So, HOW can you create these kinds of “Energizing Expectations” for your students?

Let’s talk about four things you can do to get started:

  1. Do it like Disney: Post your rules where everybody can see them. If you haven’t already done this, think through and then create a poster with 3 to 5 rules for your classroom. Make sure that the language you use to talk about these rules is positive and developmentally appropriate for the age you teach. For example, instead of saying “No running,” say “Only walking allowed.”

  2. Ensure you talk about these rules with your students, discussing WHY you have each rule, and what each rule looks, sounds, and feels like. For example, we all know what it means when the theme park opens and closes at specific times. But do your students know what it means when one of your rules says, “Show respect for everyone in the room?” Have you modeled and practiced that with your students, shown them what that looks, sounds, and feels like? And have you established what happens when they choose to break a rule?

  3. Again, take a page out of Disney’s book: Show the daily schedule to your students every morning, and I highly recommend having a morning meeting where you go through, giving a quick summary, what is happening when. It’s also great if you can warn students of any possible changes that might be happening, or if something has already changed from what is usual for that day’s schedule. Kids really need and want to know when there are going to be changes because it contributes to their feeling of safety in your classroom.

  4. Finally, start thinking through what I like to call “headache areas” in your day. Which routines need refining? What do you keep getting questions about throughout the day? Are you constantly being interrupted because kids don’t have a pencil, for example? If so, you need to start thinking through a routine for pencil use in your classroom.

    Here’s how I created a routine to solve that problem in my classroom: I invested in an electric pencil sharpener, and created a job on my student job board for a “Pencil Sharpener.” I had two small trays at the back of the room, one labelled, “Dull” and the other labelled “Sharp,” and any time throughout the day, if a student’s pencil was dull or broken, they could simply go to the back of the room, deposit their dull pencil in the “Dull” box and take a fresh one out of the “Sharp” box. At the end of the day, my Pencil Sharpener person would sharpen all of the dull pencils to get ready for a new day. And by the way, to ensure that pencils were not being collected in students’ desks, my “Desk Monitor” person would check desks at the end of each school day to ensure that desks were neat and orderly. How do you handle pencils in your classroom? Think it through, make a plan, take action, and then teach your students clearly what your expectations are.

So let’s review:

IF you:

  1. Have created your “Legendary Lay-Out” – you’ve put your space, materials, and supplies in order, AND
  2. Have established “Energizing Expectations” for you and your students with a clear schedule, rules and routines,
  3. Then you are ready for theme parks’ amazing third element: something I love to call “Magic, Love, and Sunshine.” How you can include a dash of motivational magic, and a sprinkle of love and sunshine into your classroom.

    This, my friends, is when the magic of princesses and heroes, the invitation to imagination, to love and happy endings, and all things possible, can, and I would argue – should - be layered into your classroom experience.

Be sure to tune in for my next show, Episode #6, when I dive deep into talking about this third element - specifically how you can invite theme parks’ special way of infusing magic, love, and imagination into your classroom. πŸ’›

Want Some Help with Classroom Management NOW?

Go ahead and grab the freebie I’ve created especially for you by clicking the link below. This checklist is a fantastic way for you to get a clear picture of where you are currently in your understanding of classroom management, and to give you a clear path forward for the next steps you need to take towards creating the classroom of your dreams.

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Links and Resources Mentioned in This Episode:

Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor

Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at and at

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