Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Setting Expectations

I'm trying to go with the flow at my new school. You know you're new when you're the only one carrying all your stuff to the House Assembly way over in the gym because you've got a class straight after and your staff room is on the opposite side of the school grounds and your class is about half way between. I can't quite work out why I am the only teacher who is carrying their books, in fact, not even the kids have books. I stick out like a sore thumb but no-one has mentioned it yet and I think that's because they are way too polite. I have an inkling that it's something to do with dropping your stuff off early in your room or you just go back to the staffroom and somehow manage to beat the kids to the door. I feel like I'm going against the flow here and this feeling extends to the classroom.

My previous school was a specialist maths/science school for senior students and prior to that I was at a large secondary school on the outer fringe of the metropolitan area of Melbourne. I started my teaching at this diverse, large challenging school and learnt much about teaching by the amazing people I worked with there. The biggest difference between the two schools was the high expectations that were set for the students and the follow through with this at a whole school level. This doesn't mean to say that I didn't always set high expectations with my classes but I learnt how to maintain the expectation and encourage students to live up to these expectations as I became more experienced and when I could observe what is looks like when the whole school is committed to it.

In the past couple of days I've had to draw on that experience to set the expectation for the students at my new school. I see them stare back at me with glassy eyes when I explain what effort I expect in terms of classwork, homework, class participation, taking risks, thinking, adhering to the conventions of mathematics and generally just plain old hard work, all the time. It doesn't matter which group I am teaching, the struggling 9's or the advanced 10's the conversation is the same. But I haven't dished it out in one tirade. It's subtly done and it's timely, delivered when it's needed the most and when it needs to be reinforced.

The students need to know what meeting high expectation looks like and feels like. I do this by verbalising it, celebrating it when I see it, being very explicit about what is acceptable and what is not and constantly providing feedback about their learning behaviours. I see the shoulders of those students who have set their own expectations high relax when they realise they are in the right place. I hear one of my 9's say, "I know, Miss, it's because you've got to know you can trust us. I get it."

We are all going against the flow as we work each other out but slowly their flow and my flow will be heading in the same direction. Watch out when that happens.


  1. Really enjoyed your posts so far Diane and I know I will continue to as you explore your new journey.

    Your whole description of expectations reminds me very clearly of what good ol' Ron Berger says about every student holding a notion in their mind of what is acceptable and I suppose from that, what is excellent or high quality.

    I look forward to seeing how your efforts coalesce. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks for the encouragement Tom. It's much appreciated.