Monday, January 27, 2014

Expectations vs. Wishes (part 4) - Conclusion

(In last week's post, we discussed the principle for setting clear expectations school-wide. You can read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here. This post is the fourth and final part of this series.)

Handling Disappointments

Have you ever heard a speaker say, "If you don't remember anything else I say, then at least remember this one thing."? Well, pretend you hear me saying that in your ear right now while you read this last part. I cannot stress the significance of this final component enough, and it is my opinion that not taking this point into account is what causes many educators to retreat back into the world of wishes instead of holding students to clear, consistent expectations.

Here is the truth. If you have expectations, then there will be times when they are not met. Young people need to learn that an unmet expectation leads to disappointment.

Now, you likely had no problem with the first sentence above. But if you are like me, the second sentence stirred the pot.

If expectations are consistent and don't go away, then I can confidently tell you another expectation (something I am sure of) I have of myself. There will be times I will fall short and fail to meet an expectation. And I am confident that I am not alone. We all mess up.

Perhaps an analogy of a doctor's visit will help explain. If I miss a doctor's appointment, there is usually a financial consequence (missed appointment fee) and a time consequence (re-schedule). Depending on the logistics that have to be worked out, there may be additional effects (securing childcare, missing more work, etc.). It does mean that I will have to make arrangements and change my plans (remember, this was our criterion of an expectation). There will be a cost, or inconvenience.

However, it does NOT have to mean that I just give up altogether. I do not quit going to the doctor or ignore health care needs forever. It is not the end of the world. It is only a setback.

We can help students (and colleagues - don't forget the "applies to us all" principle) mature as whole people if we help them equate "dis"-appointment" with "miss"-appointment. When a student fails to meet an expectation, then he needs to learn to "re-schedule an appointment" to make up for the disappointment. The more a student does this, the more he is able to take more ownership of "making it right" and grow from the experiences.

That is why this whole discussion of expectations and campus culture is critical. If we are too wishy-washy and inconsistent with expectations, then students have little direction and tend to make excuses for their own behaviors. On the other hand, if we compile a list of unrealistic expectations with no supports in place to help students meet them and then attach an equally long list of "gotcha!" punishments to it, then students will tend to disengage and resent the learning environment. Either way, we do a disservice to our primary stakeholders and run the risk of stunting their intellectual, social, and emotional development.

When it comes to building a school culture, it is necessary to keep in mind that expectations are aimed at creating an environment of safety and excellence for the whole community, not demanding perfection from individuals. To be honest about expectations (as they are described in this article/blog) means we must also be honest about disappointment, which is the logical result of failing to meet an expectation. It will happen. Fortunately, it provides us with one of the richest teaching moments in our careers working with children and youth.

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