M4U3A1 Setting High Academic Expectations

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”

– Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.



Photo of child prodigy Stephen R. Stafford, II



Putting in place a plan of action and applying specific strategies to promote and demand high academic expectations is important because we all have inherent and unconscious biases and prejudices.  The idea is to instigate measures to combat or temper these biases and thereby create a learning environment that ensures all students achieve their full potential.  Setting high academic expectations is not about being mean or unfair to students; it is about sufficiently challenging them, scaffolding learning where necessary and rewarding each pupil for incremental achievements so that they too can perceive their ability and envision their own eventual success.  Having high expectations is also about teachers understanding that it is fundamental that they truly believe in their students’ capacity to learn the material and triumph academically.  Without that belief, teachers unconsciously transmit their lack of faith and demotivation to their students – whose learning then suffers.  Teachers must demonstrate and maintain a positive attitude and be enthusiastic and optimistic about the outcome, no matter the situation.  Furthermore, the teacher must communicate their high expectations to their students through their words and their actions.  After all, if the teacher does not believe in the students – or the students’ perception is that the teacher does not believe they can succeed – how can the teacher expect the students to believe in themselves?  Children naturally mimic adults (Cole, 2008) and expectations are self-fulfilling.


Some Techniques to Utilize in Setting High Expectations for Students
Technique Name My Mnemonic Explanation Goal Effectiveness
·     No Opt Out 1.      You must try to succeed ~     Every student must try to answer.

~     Circle back to any student who does not try or gets the wrong answer so they can try again.

~     A wrong answer must always be replaced by a right answer so that student can experience success, even if it is just to repeat the answer provided to them

~     To let students see themselves being able to answer the question and thereby increase their self-confidence and force their participation in class. ~     It demonstrates to the student the teacher’s belief in their capacity to learn and their ability to succeed.

~     Classmates who are able to answer the question without prompting get a chance to demonstrate their knowledge and are recognized for their effort.

·     Right is Right 2.      Hold out for Mr. Right ~    Only the full complete answer is the right one. ~    To set and defend a high standard of correctness. ~    Students must provide the kind of answer that would be considered complete in college or by an independent third party before the class can move on to another question or theme.

~    It acknowledges what a student knows without letting them get away with sub-par performance.

·     Stretch It 3.      Look for consistency ~    Verify that the students’ correct answer can be replicated for similar questions. ~    To ensure competence regarding the content taught.

~    To apply their learning to various examples and situations.

~    To consolidate their learning.

~    It ensures that the student has truly grasped the content.
4.      Mr. Right is just the beginning ~    Learning continues after you receive the right answer.

~    Ask different, tougher questions next.

~    Vary the context and type of content.

~    Ask various questions of different levels.

~    Reward learning with more learning

~    To achieve mastery of the content. ~    It creates a vaulting point from which students can build on their learning.

~    It probes the student’s brain to discover the breadth of their understanding.  E.g. “Did they only memorize the definition or do they actually understand the concepts behind it?  Do they understand how to apply this information?  Can they adapt and modify this knowledge using creativity and imagination?”

·     Format Matters 5.      Accept only the complete package ~    Do not accept the right answer in the wrong format.

~    Identify the error.

~    Begin to correct or correct the error.

~    Accept only accurate and precise terminology.

~    Accept only the ‘language of success’.

~    To increase the students’ vocabulary and area-specific terminology and improve their comfort with academic terms. ~    The teacher encourages the student to substitute better words or phrases into their answer.

No Opt Out


You must try to succeed.

“We are all here for some special reason.  Stop being a prisoner of your past.  Become an architect of your future.”


Right is Right


There is no escape from the right answer.



“The right answer is just the beginning.



Stretch It


“Look for consistency.



“Look for creativity and imagination in students’ application of knowledge.


Format Matters

lego-class-1        cottage-house

“Accept only the complete package.  A Lego house is not the same as a real house.


learning pyramid

“Make sure your students attain mastery.



It is important to set high expectations in academic achievement for all students because “the distinction between proficient and advanced is an important one, with advanced representing a greater degree of critical thinking and an ability to communicate, generalize, and explain answers, which seems indicative of the kind of deep understanding we would want to foster in all students” (Education Trust, May 2013).  Furthermore, research shows that enforcing high goals of achievement at all levels also contributes to increased student learning at higher levels.  In other words, setting high expectations for everyone leads to the top students performing even better than usual.  The pivotal Pygmalion study conducted by Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968) unequivocally demonstrates the importance of teachers having high expectations for all their students.  Human behavior is intricate and complex.  Conscious and subconscious behavior communicate far more to others than words could ever do.  What people actually listen to is the feeling behind the statement.  E.g. In the business world it has been shown that the tone of a comment affects the receiver far more than the meaning of the actual words – hence why there are so many workshops done on how to provide excellent customer service.  The fact that the tone is more important than the words can even be demonstrated on animals – nature in its purest form.  E.g. One can say absolutely horrible things to a dog but in a sweet tone and the dog visibly responds.  The inverse is also true.  The same effect can be shown in adults.  All this is to say that the response of another being has more to do with the behavior of the actor than the receiver.  We unconsciously respond by fulfilling the expectations another has for us.


Setting High Expectations in My Classroom

I will ensure I set and abide by high expectations in my classroom by consistently and lovingly applying all of the strategies mentioned in this presentation.  I will demonstrate emotional objectivity and I will actively listen to my students at all times by disassociating my emotional response to a student’s behavior from my outward physical response and using calming techniques to assist me with this endeavor.  I will build a relationship with each of my students and force myself to see them all as individuals by learning about their personal interests, their family background and personal life and by sharing certain personal and professional information about myself.


“A good relationship and good communication are important.  No relationship means no interaction which probably means no learning or exchange.  Students rarely learn if they have not built a positive relationship with their teacher.

I will use positive reinforcement to motivate my students incorporating the Five Love Languages so that every child will feel rewarded regardless of their love language.  I will phrase commands using “we”, “let’s” or as a rhetorical question that is understood to be a euphemistic command (e.g. “How about if we start on the essays now?”).  I will also use equity sticks (popsicle sticks with students’ names on them) to ensure I call on all students fairly.  Most importantly, I will project enthusiasm, exhibit confidence and preparedness to my class by always dressing professionally, smiling and being energetic and maintaining a proper work-life balance so that I can always give them my best in class.

Isaiah Early

Furthermore, I will keep educating myself for my own success and improvement.

latino-boy-reading-in-library     key-keep-educating-yourself-imageseimo0ltm



Bass, Jossey.  (2010).  Chapter 1: Setting High Academic Expectations.  In Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Championpp. 27-56.  San Francisco.

Cole, Robert W.  (2008).  Educating Everybody’s Children: Diverse Teaching Strategies for Diverse Learners.  revised and expanded 2nd ed.  Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/107003/chapters/Educating-Everybody’s-Children@-We-Know-What-Works%E2%80%94And-What-Doesn’t.aspx

Edutopia.  (Dec 9, 2009).  High Expectations: Students Learn to Rise to the Occasion.  Faubion Elementary School.  Portland, Oregon.  Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=derUjqnlEzs

Edutopia.  (Dec 6, 2011).  How to Engage Underperforming Students.  Cochrane Collegiate Academy.  North Carolina.  Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y0H5XsZ1gzA

Howard, Gary R.  (Mar 2007).  As Diversity Grows, So Must We.  Responding to Changing Demographics.  vol. 64, no. 6.  pp. 16-22.  Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar07/vol64/num06/As-Diversity-Grows,-So-Must-We.aspx

Marzano, Robert J.  (2007).  The Art and Science of Teaching.  Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.  Virginia, U.S.A.

McLendon, Kelly.  (Apr 26, 2011).  Helping Low-Achieving Students Succeed.  Funderstanding: Inspiring People Who Care About Learning.  Retrieved from http://www.funderstanding.com/curriculum/helping-low-achieving-students-succeed/

Rosenthal, Robert & Jacobson, Lenore.  (1968).  Pygmalion in the Classroom.  Holt, Rinehart & Winston, lnc.  Retrieved from https://www.uni-muenster.de/imperia/md/content/psyifp/aeechterhoff/sommersemester2012/schluesselstudiendersozialpsychologiea/rosenthal_jacobson_pygmalionclassroom_urbrev1968.pdf

The Education Trust.  (May 2013).  Breaking the Glass Ceiling of Achievement for Low-Income Students and Students of Color.  Shattering Expectations Series.  Washington, D.C.


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