Is It A Bad Idea To Raise Teacher Expectations?

Raising Expectations

Do you think your teacher expectations are set too high?

Have you started to convince yourself that lowering standards is the fair thing to do for your students?

The Angry Mom Conference

Years ago, almost a decade now, I had quite the conference with a parent. Funny what memories we hold on to, or hold on to us.

In the midst of one of these conferences, in which I told the mom that her son had difficulty in keeping up and needed to spend more time on task, she informed me that my expectations were too high.

And then she told me she expected me to lower those expectations.

I was in shock.

She later told my principal that I, and I quote here, “made her blood boil.”

Yep, I was shocked again.

Why My Expectations Aren’t Low

I had worked hard on being the type of teacher that was fair, deliberate and also planned lessons with care. I didn’t just want to be the teacher that ran his classroom mindlessly.

I wanted some thinking in my class and I wanted students to relate to what they they were learning.

I expect my students to overcome challenges – not because I throw them up to create anxiety, but because we all are challenged by areas in which we struggle – students have them too.

Seeing a student prove their mettle when they didn’t think they could, was and is, why I teach.

I’m a believer in the human spirit and the opportunity that we as teachers have in bringing out the best in our students.

Grit Defined As Required

A few years ago I came across what educators were calling grit. When I first heard of the term, it made me uncomfortable. Like getting sand in your swim trunks at the beach – ouch.

In education circles, grit speaks toward what we hope exists within our students.

In speaking at the Carnegie Foundation’s Summit on Improvement in Education, Angela Duckworth’s keynote highlighted how we can encourage this ability in our students.

Her experience teaching math in inner city schools convinced her that their success wasn’t defined by one’s IQ, but instead by their desire to overcome adversity. After teaching for a number of years she continued on to graduate school in which her research focused on students, teachers as well as professionals – all in the hopes of figuring out what attributes best define success.

It wasn’t social intelligence, IQ, good looks, or physical health.

It was grit.

As Duckworth states in the video below, it’s living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint. She continues to point out that having grit is in fact inversely related to talent.

Duckworth readily admits that she hasn’t yet figured out exactly how to ensure getting the grit into your classroom, but here are some thoughts based on her research.

Improving the grittiness of our students to better guarantee their success.

  1. Keep your students’ focus on the task at hand.

To me this equates to the all importance of classroom management.

It’s also about their believing that with a little more focus, than they think they have within themselves, they’ll get it.

I’ve written before about the importance of the The Ah Hah Moment in my class and how I reiterate to my students that each of them might, and probably will, learn things at a different time – just like when they learned how to walk.

However we can, and it’s often frustrating for me when my students don’t cooperate as much as I expect, managing students’ time on task is crucial.

A few attempts I’m trying in my classroom.

  • Breaking down the lesson to include a story or two to break apart the instruction.
  • Reminding students the importance of focus.
  • Changing teaching methods to include various approaches to engagement and learning.

2. Encourage the belief that with effort, they can learn and improve over time.

Reminding students of this and then acknowledging when they’ve been successful, especially when the task at hand was a difficult one for them, is something I’m constantly trying to share with my class.

I do this through…

  • sharing past student stories
  • highlighting current student’s success
  • posting student success on my Success Board
  • sharing videos about “what’s important in life”

Now it’s time I ask you, have you told your students how awesome they are?

Have you told them that they each possess attributes that only they have?

It reminds me of the video of this teacher below.

Now imagine if each of us did what this teacher does each day with his students.

We should consistently build our students up while also being honest and sincere about what each needs to work on.

So here I sit reflecting on holding students to high expectations.

I’m also reminded how parents have come up to me at the end of the year saying they appreciated the experiences of their children doing more than they thought they could and being proud when they proved themselves successful.

No, I won’t be lowering my exceptions any time soon.

How do you introduce grit into your classroom? Do you have techniques that you introduce into your classroom that raise the bar? Please include them in the comments section, I would love to hear them.

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