I mean, not many people will argue with the idea that “all children can learn.”
Do you ever secretly worry sometimes that maybe there are some students who can’t learn or at least can’t succeed at high levels?
Have you ever met a student in whom it was difficult to believe?
I bet if we’re honest, we’ve all had that moment where we wondered if our students would reach that lofty goal we set or that was set for us. We’ve all wrestled with doubts about our students and our own ability to reach them and we’ve all felt the accompanying guilt those doubts bring. After all, it can sometimes feel that there is no greater sin in education than to have low expectations.
So we all publicly agree that high expectations are important but privately struggle to develop and maintain high expectations especially in the face of the persistent challenges plaguing education, students, and our society. It’s not that developing and sustaining high expectations is impossible. The problem is that our beliefs about high expectations are rooted in four persistent myths. Unless we uncover and discard these misguided notions about high expectations, we will never truly develop them. Over the next few posts, I’ll be sharing four of the most persistent myths about expectations as well as how we can overcome them but for now, I just want to say this:
In all these myths, one thing is clear. High expectations are about you, NOT your students.
If we believe that we can help students, we pull out all the stops to make sure that we do. If we think that a student’s needs exceed our ability to help them, we tend to give up or lower our expectations to goals we feel we can help them achieve. In every case, our expectations say more about who we are and what we believe we can do than they do about what we believe about our students.
While it is true that our students tend to rise to the level of our expectations, it is also true that we rise to the level of our own expectations. If we believe that we can reach a student, we pull out all the stops and do everything within our power to make sure that he is successful. If we are confident in our ability to teach our subject, we share ownership of a student’s success or failure. If however, we tell ourselves that there is no way to help these students, we stop trying. If we are not confident in our ability to help students, we lower our expectations to goals that we feel that we can comfortably achieve.
In this way, low expectations say more about what we think of our own abilities than they do about what we think of the students’. When we say that we don’t think the students can achieve a goal, what we are really saying is that we don’t think that we have the skills to help them make it. If we want to develop and maintain high expectations, we must shift our focus from our students to ourselves.
Don’t get me wrong here. I am not bashing teachers or blaming you for low expectations. It’s just that when we focus on ourselves instead of our students, we tend to have a lot of control over the outcome. It’s a lot easier to shift our own perspective than to give our most difficult students a personality transplant.
And yet, that one simple shift – from focusing on our students to focusing on ourselves – can be one of the most empowering things you can do as a teacher. Just by making that one simple shift, you begin to see the possibilities that you weren’t able to see before.
That doesn’t mean that students don’t have some responsibility as well. On the contrary.
By shifting your focus from the students to you, you will actually find more ways to help students be accountable and take ownership over their own behavior. Instead of feeling defeated by students, you will feel more empowered. Why? Because when you focus on yourself instead of your students, you begin to see just how much power you actually do have in the classroom