- Early is Better Than Later
Research indicates that the effect of expectations is most pronounced at the start of the school year or at the onset of new tasks and topics. Students approach these times with fewer preconceived notions of their capabilities and want guidance on what they can realistically achieve.
If students hear a positive external voice full of belief and conviction that they can succeed before their own self-doubt sets in, this can provide a significant advantage. So, set and communicate high expectations early on. This can play a critical role in shaping your students’ academic trajectory.
- The role of parental expectations
While high teacher expectations can enhance some students’ performance, psychologists suggest that this alone may only benefit a minority of students. Parents and guardians play a pivotal role in shaping students’ self-perceptions. Recent research on parental strategies for helping children succeed at school found that the most significant impact was achieved through high expectations.
When parents and guardians value education and anticipate their child’s success, they communicate the importance and likelihood of academic achievement. Other beneficial parental strategies include high expectations, regular communication, fostering positive reading habits and clear rules regarding homework and leisure time.
- Balancing expectations: The Goldilocks Principle
However, a word of caution is warranted when dealing with expectations. More isn’t always better. As with many aspects of psychology, the situation becomes more nuanced and complex once we delve beneath the surface.
Research indicates that unrealistic expectations (i.e., those that far exceed a student’s ability) can harm academic performance. Excessive expectations can also induce stress and anxiety in students. That’s where the Goldilocks Principle applies: too little or too much can be detrimental. The key lies in setting expectations that are challenging yet realistic.
- Fostering high self-expectations by building positive self-perception
Studies suggest that students’ self-perceptions significantly influence their behavior. An intriguing experiment had participants spend 5 minutes thinking about the attributes of a college professor before answering trivia questions. The results? They answered more questions correctly than those who hadn’t been primed to think like a professor.
Clearly, how students perceive themselves and their expectations of success can influence their thought processes and effort levels. Encouraging students to reflect on their learning processes, focus less on innate ability and develop positive self-talk can help with this.
It’s hard to flourish if no one believes in you. No one rises to low expectations or to demands that heavily outweigh their capabilities. However, expectations are pitched at the right level – challenging but realistic – can propel students to elevate their performance and academic achievement.
If the high expectations that staff, parents/guardians and the students themselves hold align with one another, are accurate and are established early, the chances of making a meaningful impact increase dramatically. So, let’s harness the power of expectations, set the bar high, and watch our students soar to meet it.
The original version of this article was first published on The Guardian website on August 31st 2016. You can read it, alongside all of our other Guardian blogs here: https://www.theguardian.com/profile/bradley-busch