Raising expectations

As our students are leaving school and entering a more global society, we have become more interested in how they are doing compared to others around the world. We compare them using various test outcomes, pinpointing where they’re successful and where they need to improve. These results then drive the data driven decisions that districts and divisions use to create outcomes and implement initiatives.

Many of the students in our school have been exposed to much more of the global scenery in recent years. They are touring much more, going on exchanges, meeting people from other countries and interacting with them much more than in the past. They have access to media that shows them the happenings in other countries, the plight of many global citizens and the impact a migrant population can have on another country. Yet, with all of this, there are many who still see it as “something out there” while they will continue to live like their parents with the same expectations. For some, this might happen. However, for a great many, this view of how things will work is severely crushed when they leave home and begin to compete in the economy. With many of them not really understanding that a job-starved economy doesn’t mean you can show up late, not do what is asked or disrespect others without there being severe consequences, they aren’t ready for what is coming. Yet, in a way, schools have set them up for this in many ways.


We have. In many instances, some of these students have been allowed to continue on their merry way as teachers have allowed them to move through the system. I’m not saying that it is just the teachers. When this type of thing happens, it a systematic function where all parts are contributing.

This is where our mindset needs to change from a “confrontational” mode to a “solution” focus. Instead of fingers being pointed as we look around, there is a need to be self-analytical and examine how we might have contributed. At the beginning, it needs to begin with the staff, being self-reflective practitioners, exploring their own expectations. It also requires the staff to state what the expectations are in the school. This discussion will be the cornerstone to future discussions about everything from curriculum planning to grading to parent/staff relationships. What are the standards that are important in the school?

No more standards!!

Now, I’m not going to give a list of “standards”. We all know we’ve enough of those! Instead, I’m going to look at what students might need to do well as they leave school. From here, you can decide the expectations you have for these.

  1. Communication skills – delivering their message clearly without misconceptions. Much of what we see happening around us is driven by communication. Those who are skilled at it move along much more easily than those who struggle. We all know someone who is very knowledgeable in their field but not a great communicator – hey many of my profs were like this! – and someone who, although not as knowledgeable, was a great communicator and was able to make advancements while the other person seemed to stall. Heck, read the paper and you’ll see examples of this all the time – scam artists are the extreme end of this. Teaching students to communicate their ideas in a variety of formats will be vital to their success. Doing it well may be the key to their success.
  2. Collaborative decision-making and work strategies. Groups are vital to progress – working together to create a product is found in nearly all professions – from construction to high-tech scientific work. Up until now collaborative – group – work has been “done” but there seems to be a lack of focus on learning those essential dynamics for productive collaboration. Really, I collaborate regularly on the weekend with mybuddies while watching a sports event – we have a group, everyone has a role, we have a goal and we usually achieve the goal by the end of the group activity – pizza is all gone, beverages are finished, guy hosting is in trouble with spouse and we leave him to clean up and kiss up. Mission accomplished. However, this isn’t the kind of collaboration that companies are looking for, unless you’re a tester of pizza or beverages. There needs to be direct instruction on effective and non-effective collaboration.
  3. Production of high-quality, new material. Instead of constantly re-inventing essays that can be copied, students need to be able to produce authentic and high-quality end results regardless of what they are doing. I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t be able to keep my job if all I did was do D work. In fact, as we become more individually accountable in more and more professions, those who do not understand this will find themselves left behind. Yet the system really doesn’t encourage novel ideas or divergent thinking. Instead, there continues to be a dominate frame of reference that if you “learn” enough information and can then answer the questions on a test, this will do you well for life. Yes, gathering background knowledge is important but I think there are a few more ways to do this.
  4. Solution focus. Problems abound. You don’t have to leave your classroom or office to go find one. They’ll come to you. Mine usually have an attitude, are very unhappy and don’t want to talk. Problems aren’t unique to any profession. How you handle them will set you apart. Knowing how to move past blaming and side-taking and into solution seeking is a skill that students will need to begin to learn. It’s not that we’ll be seeking mastery here – I’m still working on this one! Instead, focusing on the strategies that are used in these situations will help students to see that there are more ways to solve problems than yelling, name-calling, fighting or worse. They may not immediately choose them, they will need guidance and patience, but they need to see them at work.
  5. A global narcissism. By this I mean that instead of looking at what’s good for me, we introduce ideas that focus on global perspectives. Students are mostly “me” focused, it goes with the age. However, by moving through that stage and bringing in more global concepts, the groundwork is there for later development.
  6. Accountablilty for actions. This is one area that I believe we need to work with our communities in order to create a dialogue about people being accountable for what they do. The reason I say communities and not individual parents is because some parents will not join the conversation. However, if there is a community understanding of issues, there is a greater likelihood that there will be a congruence between the school and the community. I often run into this incongruency when it comes to respect or individual actions. The community/school isn’t always at the same point of understanding which can cause problems in regards to certain activities or actions. In this way, actions that are deemed inappropriate at school will be seen as inappropriate in other community venues – the local sporting complex. No bullying/harassment means no bullying/harassment anywhere and not just at school.

These areas, I believe, are keys to helping students develop the skills necessary for becoming successful once they leave school regardless of what they choose to do.

Oh, one more thing. We need to expand our options for students who aren’t ready to be in school. There are a number of students who, for whatever reason, just are not ready to be in school, at least, school as it is now conceived. If there isn’t going to be changes to school structures, then there needs to be some type of option for those students who don’t want to be in school. They find it stupid, a waste of time, irrelevant….. making the life of those around them much more miserable than it needs to be, especially during the teenage years when things aren’t always that hot to begin with. In some way, these students need our most creative thinking and problem solving. Unfortunately, at this time, they usually receive the least. Suspension comes to mind. As an administrator, my options are pretty limited which I find frustrating. Yes, I could create something and work with the local community and the division. However, I have very little life as it is. That’s the rub – wanting to do something without it taking over. Maybe by beginning to discuss expectations, there can be a lead into something else. I don’t have the answer? Any suggestions?


  1. Reply

    It’s not just many teachers but admins as well that think this way. Student accountability has gone out of style. We are no longer placing the burden of learning upon the learner but upon the teacher. Not only this, but k12 learners are allowed to be absent and not accountable for the work. Think about that. Would your boss allow that?

  2. Reply

    Excellent synthesis of your earlier ideas, and a good read.

    This is my take away message from your posting: My success as an individual(fill in blank: student, teacher, lawyer, store clerk) is related to the community with which I choose to stand. If the community is disinterested or not present, why would anyone expect that I will want to be a part of something so disconnected.

  3. 6minutes


    Great article!

    In particular, I love what you’ve written about communication skills, and I also consider this to be a key area for improvement in the education system.

    In an article connecting career success with communication skills, I wrote that: “Presentation skills, on the other hand, are largely neglected in schools, and few people put effort into developing them. Thus, presentation skills are a primary differentiator among you and your peers.”

  4. Reply

    mrsdurff – I don’t think it’s just the teachers or principals. It seems to be something that is happening in a more universal trend. There appears, to me anyway, that we have students who, after doing something, are being protected from any consequences for their actions. It just isn’t in schools. I don’t have any answers but I have many questions like “Is this the type of thing we want young people to learn?” “How do communities begin to grapple with this?”
    Dean – I’ve thought about politics. The ministry is not for me being Catholic with 7 children I really don’t qualify! As for staying where I am, I really don’t have any choice – my oldest girls would revolt if we moved!
    Sheryl – the community is where such things need to be discussed. Without the understanding, input and buy-in of the community, there is little chance for any type of change to take place. Sometimes we have to begin the change but for it to grow and take root, there needs to be community committment. It is a long process with no guarantee of success and, depending on certain community members, may become a point of contention. Working with the community builds the necessary foundation upon which other changes will be built.
    6minutes – I agree with you – the need to understand that presentation skills are essential is long overdue. In our global world, being able to present your ideas and thoughts in a powerful and succinct fashion will set you above the rest. The article was great!

  5. Reply

    For me, an excellent and thought-provoking post – to share with staff at school and to provoke discussion. Expectations of teachers are too often out-of-synch with current and future needs of students. Time that teachers became accountable for the quality of education we hand out to our 21C kids! We talk a lot about creativity and problem solving – how about we apply that to our own processes. I’m very glad to have been able to read this post. Thanks.

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  7. Reply

    What a great list!
    Here are number 7 & 8 to add to it:

    7. Business Acumen.
    Consumerism and debt are not guiding principles. You mention a job-starved economy, well this gets compounded by poor skills in the management of wealth.

    8. Personal Health.

    I also like how you say “No more standards!!” The more I think about it, the more I believe that ‘standards’ are the handcuffs that restrain meaningful changes in education.

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