First, we introduced the nine habits you need to start (or continue. And definitely enable.), with a promise to focus on a different habit each week. The first habit, Learn From other People, was included in that first post. Next, we addressed Assessment.

That brings us to habit number 4: Have High Expectations for Every Single Student.

 Well, duh. Of course we have high expectations for our students.  

We want them all to learn, we personalize our teaching to see that they do, and we regularly assess (in a variety of ways) to make sure that they are.

When they don’t learn, we re-teach until they do learn.

We have high expectations.

Don’t we?

But the thing about having high expectations for every single student: even our best intentions can be overrun by our unconscious anticipations about how well a child will learn--how we perceive our students (again, often unconsciously) before we’ve even put their face with that family name that is all too familiar, based on the bus we know they ride and the neighborhood it serves, by their contributions (or lack thereof) to class discussions, by the company they keep, or the way their brother behaved in class the year before.  In other words, our development of expectations (and unconscious behavior in support of them) for every single student can sometimes happen before any kind of instruction, practice, or assessment has occurred.

Here are just a few reasons why our expectations for each child (and our unconscious anticipation of how well they will achieve these expectations) are so important:

  1. They shape (firmly) how well or how much a child thinks he or she can achieve, can do, can be. They pay attention even if they pretend they don't.
  2. Those expectations that WE have? They tend to be self-fulfilling, not always and maybe not forever, but usually and at least for a while. In all cases, children want to please their teacher and even when their testing you, it's...well, a test. They want you to pass it. They want you to prove that you care about them and you believe that with some hard work and some practice, they will get it.
  3. They last: those children turn into adults who tell stories at work or at home or at conferences when asked, "who impacted what YOU believed you could achieve and be and do?"  They tell about THAT specific moment when they knew a teacher believed in them, or when they didn't. 

I've found an article that does a much better job than I at making the case for high expectations for every single student. You can access it here, but first, a few quotes from that article that might be a great conversation starter at your next faculty or leadership team meeting.

In the U.S...innate ability is viewed as the main determinant of academic success. The role played by effort, amount and quality of instruction, and parental involvement is discounted....Poor performance in school is often attributed to low ability, and ability is viewed as being immune to alteration, much like eye or skin color. Therefore, poorly performing students often come to believe that no matter how much effort they put forth, it will not be reflected in improved performance. (Lumsden 1997)

For instance, many Americans blame their failure to draw a credible representation of an object on lack of ability, explaining, "I am no good at drawing." In Chinese and Japanese cultures, the response to a person who had difficulty drawing would be, "Isn't it a shame that no one taught you how to draw." (Bamburg 1994)

A characteristic shared by most highly effective teachers is their adherence to uniformly high expectations. They refuse to alter their attitudes or expectations for their students—regardless of the students' race or ethnicity, life experiences and interest, and family wealth or stability (Lumsden 1997).

Teachers who produce the greatest learning gains, accept responsibility for teaching their students. They believe that students are capable of learning and that they (the teachers) can teach them (Encyclopedia of Educational Research 1992).

Want More? 

Check out this practice guide: Through the Student's Eyes, written by our own Sam Redding through the Center on Innovations in Learning. The guide provides reflection activities that might be the perfect way to introduce a  book-study segment to an instructional team meeting, leadership team meeting, or whole-school faculty meeting. 

photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography via photopin cc

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