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What do you expect?

I have been thinking a lot lately about expectations.  Specifically related to myself as an administrator, for my teachers, and my coaches.  Often times we talk about having ‘high expectations’, but what does that really mean?  In this post I aim to talk about setting expectations, the difference that exists between what we expect and what we accept, and finally having the guts to not settle for anything less than what you expect and/or want.


Among the common buzz words in education, high expectations gets thrown around a lot, I mean, A LOT.  I hear this used often in the context of letting people know what you want/wish them to do/complete/act as/behave like etc.  Last year I had 19 new members on staff (we have about 100 teachers for reference) and I asked each of them the same two questions both early in the year and then again later during a performance review:

1) Do you have high expectations of your kids? 2) Do you have high expectations of yourself?

Most of them had similar answers, along the lines of ‘I would like to’, ‘I hope so’, or even ‘No, and I need help in this area’.  Two of my veteran staff members, both of whom currently have rather high failure rates, asked the same questions identically: yes I do, which is why so many kids fail my class, they can’t live up to my expectations.  YIKES!!! I struggle so much with this position, this narrow and blind vision of what expectations are…

Expect vs Accept

I am a firm believer that you reap always what you sow, meaning that the efforts you put into whatever it is that you do are in direct correlation to what results you ultimately see.  When given the chance to describe the above classification of ‘high expectations’ the two teachers both told me that students don’t or won’t put in the time and effort that is necessary to pass their classes.  While, at times, this could be a true statement, it brings me to the same place I always arrive…what is the connection to what you are doing like in relation to their world; is it relevant, is it meaningful, or is it simply busy work (worksheets and vocabulary puzzles) that students won’t do?  For another post, Relationships, Relevance, and Rigor will be our focus at RSHS for the foreseeable future, but that would be chasing a squirrel now.  In essence, and back on point, I can summarize the difference between expectations as this:

Expectations are what you hope to see/get/gain/develop in your students, your team, your staff

Acceptance is what the bare minimum is, I will accept nothing less than ___________.

Most people would agree with these two statements, with potentially a minor modification to either or both they are essentially universal definitions of the two words.  I would, however, argue, that the two are so tightly aligned that those who struggle with student behavior, teacher behavior/performance, or achievement, miss the POINT.  Here, in my mind, is the POINT – I call it the Rise and Fall Principle…

Your students will either rise or fall to the level of expectation you are willing to accept.

Yep, that’s right – what you accept is what your ACTUAL expectations are…be that your expectations of students, athletes, or even yourself.  If you accept less, your expectations are less.  So if you have a high failure rate or poor classroom behaviors, I would argue that it is on you.  You are accepting less that what you stated you expected.

You don’t have to be mean, rude, strict, or “awful” to get your expectations and what you accept to match up – two key things must exist; 1) relationships – kids/staff/athletes must know you genuinely care about them for them to truly work ‘FOR’ you; 2) consistency in communication and follow through – if you don’t hold all to the same, if you allow one student to do whatever they choose or behave in a way that doesn’t meet the expectation, then you have settled for less.

The guts

When you share what you expect, you are making a contract with those you share with.  You are telling them an order exists and, provided it is maintained, all will achieve and be successful.  The mark of a great teacher or administrator is when that ‘order’ is not met.  How do you handle those who choose, for whatever reason, not to meet the expectation?  Do you ignore them and allow them to ‘fail’?  If you do, you have lowered your standards for all.  This is an area where I have struggled at times – nobody likes to call someone out, to have the uncomfortable conversation with an employee not living up to expectations, nor do teachers like to have to call the parent of a kid not doing what they are supposed to do.  But this is where movement happens.  Last year I made two of the most difficult decisions of my professional career, both related to personnel not living up to what I expected.  If I allowed them to continue, I was lowering my standard.  It meant me and my team taking on more responsibilities down the stretch of the school year, but I could not allow it to continue.

This is a pretty extreme example of holding to your expectations, but I did hear from a number of staff members that they appreciated the decision I made, and supported me in making the tough call.

This year, we will meet with our entire staff, outlining for them what we as an administrative team expect of them.  I would imagine that nearly all administrative teams do this, calling them expectations or non-negotiables or whatever the current jargon is.  Taking it a step further, my team will meet individually with each teacher, specifying what their role is and what we expect of them during the upcoming school year.  The expectation is different for each, sure the basic expectations are the same, but the big teacher leaders will have a different role on staff than the first year teacher right out of college.  It is important to let them know what you need from them and to find out how you, as their leader, can assist them.  The same is true of your students – not that you have time to meet individually with them, although you certainly could – letting them know, beyond what’s written on the syllabus or classroom management plan, what you expect of them and learning how you can help get them to those expectations.

End result

At the end of it all, it comes down to being clear in what you expect and being consistent in not settling for less than your expectations.  Sometimes we get caught up in setting a bar so high that only the superstar can reach it, that is why words like excellent, superior, distinguished, etc exist.  Set expectations that are realistic, attainable, and result in success for students or staff.  Those who excel will have no problem sailing past the expectation, they don’t need that extra push – those who may fall short are the ones who need us, dedicated educators, who don’t wish to see anyone fail.  Those who are the reason we are teachers.

I had some goals when I started this post and, without any editing, I will  post this raw level of thinking.  Did I hit my goal?

Until next time – yours in education



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