People: the more you expect, the more you get

I realize the title statement isn’t always the case. Sometimes the more you expect, the more you get disappointed or the more you expect, the more pressure you apply which could lead to a negative result.

But I am referring to the positive outcomes that result from people who have the fortune to have someone who believes in them and expects them to do better and eventually master a certain skill. Sir Ken Robinson mentions it in his TED talk when he says “there are conditions under which people thrive, and conditions under which they don’t”. Oftentimes we see students who drop out, as people who are giving up, instead of considering that for them it may be deciding to leave a system that has given up on them. I read an article on how Teacher’s Expectations Can Influence How Students Perform which led me to reevaluate my school years (primary to high school) and the role that my teachers’, classmates’, and my parents’ expectations of me played in my overall performance. I was at the top of my class and I do remember feeling a sense of responsibility to maintain the high level of achievement that was expected of me. In contrast, some of my friends who did not receive this kind of support and expectation from our teachers or their parents, felt very disengaged during classes and were not motivated to do the work assigned for after school either. Fast forward a few years to my move to Virginia to attend graduate school where I was perceived very differently based on my gender and ethnicity and confronted with the idea of whether that has an effect on my capabilities. I am still discovering how or if that kind of questioning affected or affects my performance. While revisiting all this, it also made me question what happens first: does the expectation lead a student to do well? or is a student who performs well early on then expected to continue on the same path? How strong is the impact of external factors such as other people’s perceptions on your capabilities?

In the study mentioned in the article above, they suggest that a change in teachers’ behaviors can also lead to a change in their expectations which in turn affects their students’ performance. This seems to emphasize what Sir Ken Robinson mentioned about the importance of increasing the support and professional development of teachers in the United States if we hope to decrease the drop-out numbers and increase a sense of satisfaction through education and learning. By implementing what Ellen J. Langer calls mindful learning, there seems to be a shift in the focus from the information at hand back to the individual–the person doing the learning as well as the one facilitating it. It all comes back to the people, but people are very diverse. Therefore, too much standardization can leave out great numbers of students to our collective disadvantage where we are all deprived of their individual talents.

11 thoughts on “People: the more you expect, the more you get”

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience. I too think a lot about teacher expectations and the effect they have on students. I’ve always wondered if “tracking” based educational systems end up with self-fulfilling prophesies regarding how they label each student. Put a student in the “advanced” class in elementary school will they think themselves advanced? But put student in the “regular” or “standard” class will they see themselves as nothing special academically? And as you’ve said expectations extend to labels of gender, ethnicity, etc. that are put upon us not just in school but in wider society. I’m sure what the best solution is but I do see a major problem with creating discreet categories for different people.

  2. Expectation management is a thing managers use when they deal with people in business. I don’t have the knowledge to verify whether you get more if you expect more, but it does sound reasonable. However, it might also backfire. If you expect too much, some people might give up. I think it comes to what Ser (hah) Robinson is saying that, each student is different and they would react differently.

  3. outcomes that result from people who have the fortune to have someone who believes in them and expects them to do better and eventually master a certain skill”. I think a good amount of attention, support or even pressure give students the drive to learn better, and at the end of the day, they will be the people who benefit from it. However, it is hard to handle the right amount, which we all experienced it when we are kids, students, or at the teaching position. Mindful learning may be a way that not only the students but also the teachers would like to pay attention to, since this may help both of them get to a balance, and result in diverse, wonderful outcomes.

    1. I had some doubts about your title until I saw you explained it as “the positive outcomes that result from people who have the fortune to have someone who believes in them and expects them to do better and eventually master a certain skill”. I think a good amount of attention, support or even pressure give students the drive to learn better, and at the end of the day, they will be the people who benefit from it. However, it is hard to handle the right amount, which we all experienced it when we are kids, students, or at the teaching position. Mindful learning may be a way that not only the students but also the teachers would like to pay attention to, since this may help both of them get to a balance, and result in diverse, wonderful outcomes.

  4. Great post! The sentence you wrote –

    “Fast forward a few years to my move to Virginia to attend graduate school where I was perceived very differently based on my gender and ethnicity and confronted with the idea of whether that has an effect on my capabilities. I am still discovering how or if that kind of questioning affected or affects my performance.”

    especially caught my eye. I am unsure what field you are in, or your gender or ethnicity but all of these facets have intersectional impact on how we learn, how we approach work and how educators choose to (or not to) engage with our learning style. I am encouraged that this is something you are thinking about! I am certain your own experience can help shape your teaching style.

  5. Expectations can definitely impact students’ ability to learn. If the learning environment is one that rewards mastery of a subject, most students will get there. If it allows people to “get by” with learning almost nothing, the students will often get little out of the course. The key I think is to keep it challenging without being overwhelming. Easy right? I think it helps if the course is fun and relatable in some way. I feel lucky to have only taught labs, where it is a little easier to maintain this dynamic and get to know students on a more individual level. Even still, it’s tough! Realizing that students are individuals with unique stories and backgrounds and supporting them is a big part of this process.

  6. Expectation is like a double-edged knife. One hand, it might be a motivation pushing students forward. On the other hand, it might become a burden that students try to meet the expectation without enjoying the study process or even are afraid of learning. Since expectation from teachers clearly affects students’ performance, it is important to set up the “right” expectation level for students with different backgrounds and interests. Therefore, I think for each lecture, teachers can set up a minimum outcome level that every student should meet and an “upper” level, even an “advanced” level if students want to dig the problem deeper.

  7. I couldn’t agree more with the post. I think it goes back to the ideals surrounding good parenting techniques. When we instill confidence into our students/children, they in turn have the confidence to accomplish more than what they originally thought they could. I’m a big believer in the idea that, more than anyone else, WE tend to hold ourselves back with our own inhibitions and doubts. It’s important to lift each other up, whether it be in the classroom or out in the world.

  8. I think I follow what you mean. I have actually experienced super-low expectations from professors and I later resented them for creating such an uneventful structure. I think when we set expectations for the classroom we should definitely be mindful of the diversity in the room, but don’t get so focused on “meeting them where they are” that we make excuses for mediocrity. Great post.

  9. I have to admit that the students who receive more expectation generally perform better than those who are ignored by teachers. But sometimes too much expectation can play a negative role. When I was in high school, I ranked top ten in my grade and naturally received more expectation from my teachers and parents. But I was almost crushed by the pressure along with their expectations and was afraid to fail. I don’t like myself at that time, who only lived on others’ expectation rather than followed my own heart.

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