Sunday, April 15, 2012

Expectations vs. Wishes (part 1)

School leaders everywhere claim to hold high expectations of their students. Obviously, it would be ridiculous to claim otherwise. So, we see and hear the mantra in campus mission statements, superintendents' initiatives, and school board campaigns. Of course, this is how it should be! The debate is not whether we should declare to have high expectations of all students. My concern, quite frankly, is that we simply don't mean it.

Defining Expectations
Our problem is not that we intentionally hold low expectations of our students, but we fail to define exactly what it is we expect. By default, we go around repeating slogans that resemble "wishes" more than true, realisitic expectations.

To create an evnironment that truly nurtures high expectations, one must clearly define what expectations are in the first place. Being explicit about what an expectation is and is not, I believe, is one of the most concrete tasks that school leaders can perform to lay the foundation for successful student learning. Furthermore, this work at the "front end" will also support professional development and adult learning.
Let's begin, then, with a definition of expectation. An expectation is something anticipated, something we can look forward to, an event that one not only hopes for, but also trusts will happen. In our minds, a true expectation is so certain to occur that we make plans accordingly. For instance, I expect the sun to set this evening and to rise again tomorrow. I am so sure of it that I plan my eating and sleeping patterns (sometimes not all that consistently) based upon this expectation.

The key criterion of an expectation is that it is worth arranging one's life (or work or play, or in our case, class or school) around. In other words, to expect is to fully believe to the point of acting. On Monday morning, for example, I expect to still have my job. As a result of this expectation, I plan to wake up early, dress a certain way, leave an adequate time for the commute (another aspect dependent on real expectations of traffic flow, street lights functioning, etc.) and so on in order to arrive at my job.
The practical point here is that there are very real consequences to our plans if expectations are not met. Continuing with my previous illustration, if an unexpected delay arises, such as road construction or a car accident that I could not have foreseen, then I will be late to work, or at the very least, I will have to find another route. In short, my original plan will be insufficient and must change. Therefore, the first test to tell if a true expectation exists is whether plans will have to change as a result of it not occuring.

This, in turn, becomes the litmus test to determine if I truly hold an expectation of my students. If I think I expect something of them, then I can ask myself, "What changes in my plans does it create if they do not meet it?"
(to be continued...)

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