Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Setting High Expectations in the Middle School Classroom

Starting the school year can be a chaotic time, but one of the most important things we can do for our students is clearly set our high expectations. This simple move is vital, not only for maintaining the ideal classroom climate, but also for reaching those year-end levels of achievement and academic goals.

Setting high expectations in the middle school classroom
Despite the incredible need for setting high expectations, we are now in a world where instant satisfaction and unwarranted praise are the norm.  This makes creating the true high expectations classroom even more of a challenge.  Add the state-mandated focus on end results (testing) over true academic impact, and it's easy to lose focus or to let go of what's truly important for our students to learn!

So, what does it look like?
  • A high expectations classroom is one where the students are responsible for their own learning.  This does not relinquish the teacher of his/her responsibility to teach, but the students are the ones who must put for the effort for their own success.  Allowing a student to fail is an incredible challenge for a teacher, but it can be the greatest lesson a student may learn in their lifetime.  
  • A high expectations classroom provides grade-appropriate AND advanced curriculum.  This does not mean you are leaving anyone behind.  It means that you are encouraging students to work beyond the norm.  You are introducing them to what may come ahead, and in fact, creating a smoother path for them to follow.
  • A high expectations classroom does not accept excuses.  Ruby Payne's A Framework for Understanding Poverty is a masterful examination of the impact teachers have on those in poverty.  While providing outstanding tools for addressing poverty in the classroom, she is also quick to explain that excuses only breed excuses.  Stop giving children the option to not do!  Instead, offer them options for completing the tasks in front of them. 
  • A high expectations classroom is filled with structure.  Also discussed in A Framework is the simple fact that all students need (and crave) structure.  Rules are set to help students know the boundaries.  Without rules, chaos and a lack of focus are easy traps.  
  • A high expectations classroom is filled with attainable goals.  We all set goals when we hope to find success. We may not state them out load, and we may not claim to have them, but we do.  Sometimes they are very simple (A daily to-do list), while other times they are more complex (Earning a degree).  Still, they give us guidance and a clearer path to a desired end result.  Encourage these for your students.  Even the smaller goals will make a huge difference.
  • A high expectations classroom is a place for dreams!  Sadly, too many of our students do not have positive role models with great dreams and the desire to live an adventurous life; they are content with status quo.  Dreams, whether created through experiences with role models, by reading a good book, or through the encouragement of a great teacher, are so important!  If we never dream, we will never go!
How do you create a high expectations classroom?
  1. Start on Day 1.  Establish the classroom rules.  Be clear about what they mean and thoroughly examine the consequences. Include rules for assignment completion, including grade-appropriate homework.  Being a student is their job, and learning that responsibility is one of the most valuable lessons they can learn.
  2. Be consistent.  Follow through and consistency are so important.  If you are seen as inconsistent, they will never trust you to teach them the correct path for behavior, much less learning.
  3. Be fair!  This is often a challenging step since fair is not always equal.  And this is a lesson worth sharing with your students.  
  4. Don't accept excuses.  There is a huge difference between accepting excuses and providing appropriate, situation-based options.  Know this difference and be prepared with those options in your classroom.
  5. Reward excellence, NOT everyday behavior. This is the most tricky tactic at all.  But we all have to take a look around and accept that our Give Every Kid A Trophy society is not working.  Instead of creating strong, competitive, hard-working adults, we have created a generation of entitled, demanding, dependents.
While some of these tactics may seem harsh and uncaring, they are truly the most loving you can be for your students.  Teaching them responsibility, character, and dedication can lead them much further in life than providing them an easy out.  More importantly, teaching with high expectations will also create a respect in your classroom that will not only benefit you, but also each and every student that walks in your door.
Setting high expectations in the middle school classroom
Where do you want to see your students go? Dream BIG and they will, too!

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