High Expectations for Students


School started back last week (for the teachers) and we had several sessions of sharing and professional learning as well as some time to get personal planning done.  I love that we get an extra week mid-year to do this sort of planning and learning!

We spent some time looking at expectations for students and read an article written by Linda Lumsden.  In a nutshell, the article suggests that teachers have a tendency to set too low an expectation on students.  In fact, the article quotes Asa Hilliard III who contends that

“our current ceiling for students is really much closer to where the floor ought to be.”

That’s a pretty confronting statement.

While I don’t necessarily disagree, I did start pondering the reason for this and the extent to which expectations might be communicated by influencers outside the classroom.  In my experience, parents can sometimes reinforce the notion that a student is incapable of more than they might currently be delivering in the classroom.  This will especially be seen when adolescents (especially boys) are going through the typical 14-16 year old slump.  You know the thing… hormones are raging, life is opening up new possibilities and excitements, and school… well, it sucks.

How frustrating it can be when parents settle on the belief that their child is incapable of better results and potentially direct them into a ‘lower academic’ career.  Often all that is needed is time and the support of teachers and parents while the brain reorganises itself and the child is able to learn again.

I know it is not always as simple as that, but sometimes it is.

(The media play a part in this pervasive opinion of adolescents too.  Just look at the way teens are portrayed in the media!)

Teachers play a vital role in supporting adolescents through this time, particularly in setting the academic bar appropriately high.  What we believe of our students – more importantly, what we communicate to them about our belief in / of them – will potentially be one of the most significant things we do as Middle Years teachers.

Here is more of what Linda Lumsden says about expectations and their desires from teachers:

Although students may appear to accept or even relish lax teachers with low standards, they ultimately come away with more respect for teachers who believe in them enough to demand more, both academically and behaviorally.

In a recent national survey of over 1,300 high school students (Public Agenda 1997), teens were asked on questionnaires and in focus group discussions what they think of and want from their schools.

Teens’ responses concerning what they want were clustered in three main areas:

  • A yearning for order. They complained about lax instructors and unenforced rules. “Many feel insulted at the minimal demands placed upon them. They state unequivocally that they would work harder if more were expected of them.”
  • A yearning for structure. They expressed a desire for “closer monitoring and watchfulness from teachers.” In addition, “very significant numbers of respondents wanted after-school classes for youngsters who are failing.”
  • A yearning for moral authority. Although teens acknowledged cheating was commonplace, they indicated that wanted schools to teach “ethical values such as honesty and hard work.”

Similarly, when 200 middle school students in Englewood, Colorado, were surveyed about their most memorable work in school, they repeatedly “equated hard work with success and satisfaction. Moreover, they suggested that challenge is the essence of engagement” (Wasserstein 1995).

How do you show your high expectations of students?

Please leave a comment to share your opinions and ideas.

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