Improving Teaching Expectations Improves Student Performance

Teachers are usually the most important influence on a child, second only to parents. Teachers are often judged on the results they produce in their students. Students pass or fail, scores are recorded, and every year a new batch of students shows up and the process begins again.

How well students perform is fairly easy to measure, although the testing methods are always a matter of controversy. What’s much more difficult to measure is how much better students could have performed if the approach to teaching them was different. Educators, school administrators, and behavioralists are becoming increasingly interested in how to increase student performance by changing teaching expectations. Studies have shown that teachers behave differently toward their students based on their ideas of how the students will perform, and that attitude affects how well the student actually does. It is now becoming clearer that low teaching expectations can produce lower potential outcomes.

Teachers Are Only Human

It’s natural that teachers who are given the task of instructing up to two dozen students at a time will quickly try to pigeonhole everyone in their class. It’s not practical for teachers to wait until the last day of the school year to decide how to approach the needs of each individual student. While it’s easy to say that all students should be held to the same standards and given the same opportunities, human nature takes over and teachers often decide who are the brightest kids in the class and tailor their efforts to push them forward.

If a teacher miscalculates in their teaching expectations and labels a bright child an underachiever, the student might end up with less attention than his classmates, and not reach his or her potential. What’s becoming increasingly clear is that the teaching expectations themselves are affecting student performance, not just the measurement of student performance. If you expect more from students, they can actually deliver it. If you expect less, you get less.

Learning How to Teach Is More Important Than What to Teach

Innovative school administrators have concentrated on coaching teachers on their teaching expectations instead of strictly focusing on improving the course curriculum. What they discovered is that teachers that had higher expectations for their students were more likely to see improvements in student performance than teachers that concentrated solely on understanding the material that would be covered more thoroughly.


Researchers have discovered that in many cases, teachers have mistaken enthusiasm for being disruptive, and have systematically disciplined boys that are too boisterous in the classroom when answering questions. Teachers that treat eagerness to answer questions as a form of misbehavior eventually discourage students from answering at all, and their lack of participation reinforces the teaching expectations that they’re underachievers. This produces an unproductive loop of escalating undesirable behavior and further withdrawal from class participation.

Teachers that want their students to reach their full potential need to guard against deciding what that potential might be before they even begin the educational process. Teachers shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that if they were wrong about their snap assessments of student potential that the worst that can happen is that they’d be pleasantly surprised when the student outperforms their low teaching expectations. Low expectations are more likely to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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