Setting Realistically High Expectations

Posted by Brainspring on 27th Aug 2014

Hi everyone,

Today I had my last session of the summer with a student I have been working with for the past two summers, Sharon (not her real name).   Realizing that I might not be seeing her until next summer makes me a little sad, but it’s comforting to know that she will return to school with a more solid foundation for reading thanks to her hard work over the summer.  Of course, I wonder what kind of support she will receive when she goes back to school and I hope she is fortunate enough to have a teacher or interventionist that is trained in a Multisensory Structured Language program, but I understand that I only have control over the type and quality of instruction she receives when she is in my office.


Realistically High Expectations

Because the time we spend with our students where we have control over their instruction is limited, the expectations we set are essential.  We constantly hear about setting “high expectations” for our students in our classroom.  I like to rein in that general idea by adding the adjective “realistically”.  Realistically high expectations create a more positive situation for students, parents and teachers.


A Personal Experience with Setting Expectations

Meeting with Sharon’s mom at the beginning of the summer, I knew I needed to be upfront about setting realistically high expectations for Sharon’s progress.  Sharon was going to be held back in 2nd grade unless she was able to read at a 3rd grade level by the end of summer.  From doing an assessment of Sharon’s skills, I knew that she still needed to develop a couple basic letter-sound connections.  She had a great deal of confusion about vowel sounds and needed to master reading and writing CVC words.  This meant we would be spending at least the beginning of summer in Phonics First Foundations Layer 1.  From documents brought by Sharon’s mother and from working with her the previous summer, I also knew Sharon struggled with ADHD, emotional issues and a learning disability.  I had to consider all these factors when developing expectations for Sharon’s progress this summer.

I discussed the information with Sharon’s mother and explained that while Sharon would improve her reading skills over the summer, I did not think it was realistic to expect her to end up reading at a 3rd grade level during this short period of time.  The first goal was to make sure she knew all the basic letter-sound relationships and reading and spelling CVC words.  We would also be working on connected text fluency.  Once Sharon had mastered reading and spelling CVC words, we would move on to skills like basic spelling rules, suffixes and long vowel sounds.

Comment here with your experience setting realistic expectations.


Realistic Expectations Benefit Students, Parents and Teachers

The most important benefit to these realistically high expectations was that Sharon’s reading ability progressed and she felt successful.  By making sure the expectations were realistic, Sharon was able to meet them and feel capable and proud of her accomplishments.  Expectations that aren’t realistic can hurt a student’s confidence and self-esteem if they aren’t able to reach them even when they are trying their best.  A student’s confidence builds, however, each time they are able to reach an expectation which builds their self-esteem, develops a positive attitude and motivates them, all things that make them better learners!

Communicating realistically high expectations for their student is important in building positive relationships with parents as well.  By explaining your expectations and the reasoning behind them, you demonstrate to the parents that you are aware of their child’s unique situation and want to help them reach their potential.  Do not make promises you can’t keep or set goals based on what you think the parents want to hear.  Be honest with parents, so they can be fair in what they expect of their student and in what they expect of you.

Finally, setting realistically high expectations allows you to feel successful as an educator.  As teachers we tend to focus more on what we wish we could have done and the things about a student’s situation we wish we could change than on the gains we actually make with a student and the time with them we actually have control over.  We need to feel confident in our abilities to help our students progress, just like our students need to feel confident that they are capable of progressing.  Thinking realistically about all the factors that affect your student’s progress will help you set expectations that are fair to you and the student.


What things do you keep in mind to guide you to making your expectations motivating instead of frustrating?


Remember to like us on FB, follow us on Twitter and post your questions and comments here!