Setting High Expectation For Them and Me

High Hopes
Image by This is Awkward via Flickr

I like quotations.

One of my favorites is Robert Browning’s “a man’s reach must exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for.”

Talk about setting high expectations!

High expectations are important. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard teachers look at something and say, “my kids can’t do that.”

I just said it about something I was looking at in my lesson planning.

Then I realized that of course my students can’t do that, I haven’t taught them how to yet.

Sometimes teachers forget that we don’t have to teach what the students already know and can do but we do have to teach them what they can’t do. We have to expect them to be able to learn it.

If we don’t, they won’t.

My son is a voracious reader who got a perfect score on his 4th grade state ELA test. He wants to grow up to be an English professor.

His 7th grade English teacher told us that he has much deeper understanding of the assigned readings than the other students in the class and showed it every day in class discussions in which, she said, he sounded more like a high school student than a 7th grader.

But she could not give him the A he otherwise so richly deserved because he did not do his homework.

She wasn’t teaching English. She was teaching compliance.

Then there was his 8th grade honors English teacher who gave the class the homework assignment of making a list of the characters in a play they were reading. No, not character analyses. Not character sketches. Not a chart of the inter-relationships among characters.

Just a list of their names.

My son refused to do the homework because, as he wrote in a note to his teacher, it was inane and insulting to honors English students who were well aware that there is a list of a play’s characters right in the front of the script.

His ELA grades kept going down because of low or misguided teacher expectations, not because he was any less interested in ELA and not because he was any less capable of reading with insight and writing with clarity.

My son did struggle with math. He never got a grade above a D in any aspect of math.

Mathematics homework
Image via Wikipedia

But his 6th grade math teacher had clear, explicit and very high expectations for the class and she taught students how to meet them.

He got an A.

More than that, he began to understand that he was not bad at math, that he should not expect for it to be too difficult for him.

Students need to know their teachers believe in them.

They need their teachers to set clear, specific, high goals and make them explicit.

Then they need their teachers to teach them how to meet those goals.

My students can learn how to meet them.

Your students can learn how to meet them.

Now it is up to us to learn how to set them.

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4 Responses to Setting High Expectation For Them and Me

  1. Lori says:

    Right on the money! I intend to set clear, specific goals for my students, and to teach my students how to attain those goals. I believe my students, who are identified as “Life Skills Support”, can attain any realisitc expectation.

  2. Deven,

    Thank you for the post.

    I’ve been looking around at #ecosys to see if we can precisely identify common characteristics of schools that “work” in poor communities.

    The more I look, the more I think it’s just what you’re pointing to here. “Clear, explicit, high goals” and teachers who know and are learning to get students to achieve them.

    My strong hunch is that everything else is off point. Just to be clear, everything else are good things.

    But… if we can figure out how to remove the obstacles to this ONE point, change can happen for the kids we have to take care of today. That’s the goal that interests me.

    I see two big problems and would be interested in any reactions.

    Problem 1. The waste of teacher’s time with off task expectations. Based on my experience the worst offenders are useless meetings and most “Professional Development.”

    Problem 2. The most ubiquitous “clear, explicit goal is “Pass this test.” It only makes sense that in the absence of anything else, many teachers would shape their practice to achieve “Pass this test.”

    My hope is Common Core Standards will be translated into clear, explicit goals in the classroom – for the students in that room at that time. Once so translated it could pretty quickly lead to improved quality of life for teachers and better outcomes for the kids.

    I recently found a link to “Myths and Realities about Common Core.’ Since I’m an amateur, it would be a great help if I could get some feedback from professionals I respect. Do you think my hopes for Common Core make sense?


  3. […] Setting High Expectations […]

  4. baconpirates says:

    My son attends the #76 ranked school on Newsweek’s top 1000 high schools list. They have structures in place to reduce academic failure, including helping kids set high expectations for themselves.

    However, the emotional structure underneath is rotten. Instead of treating teenagers like emerging adults, the adults condescend to them as if they are overgrown children.

    My son is now a Senior. I sent him to summer school at a local community college before his Junior year; I wanted him to have a taste of what he’s working towards. He went above and beyond for that professor. Though he was fascinated with the subject, he appreciated the classroom environment because he wasn’t condescended to like a Kindergartener.

    He cultured a relationship with the professor, which was easy since the guy wasn’t rude, insulting, or nasty. My son raced home to complete his homework every day. After his grade was posted, I emailed the professor and thanked him for sparking my kid.

    Several months later at his Junior high school conference, his advisor asked if he had any general concerns about his education. My son then explained that one of his teacher’s inability to manage the class was interfering with his education.

    High expectations are less meaningful when the underlying relationships are weak.

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