In the 1980s, Bandura explored the concept of self-efficacy, which put simply refers to how people perceive their own capabilities and how that perception drives their behaviors (Bandura, 1982). These personal judgments not only determine action but they influence emotions, decision-making, capacity, and goal achievement. That means that a psychological construct within us drives our potential to achieve our goals. That’s powerful stuff for personal reflection, but it’s also really important for how we set and communicate expectations for others, particularly students.
Imagine that the expectations you communicate to students in regard to their potential are the determining factors in their actual potential. In other words, what we think students can achieve is the only limitation on what they actually can and will achieve. Can you think of a former student with a track record of underachievement? What were your expectations of his achievement in your class? Have you ever had another teacher tell you that a student’s behaviors were unbearable? What did you expect from that student when you saw him on your roster?
Now imagine what this does over time. If people consistently have low expectations for any one person or group of people, it severely limits their potential. Do that year after year, and it can debilitate the future potential that our students have, simply because of what we think about them. The answer: don’t think it. Change your mindset (Dweck, 2008).
Let’s go back to self-efficacy. What if I told you that the real problem is not the expectations you hold for your students but instead the expectations you have for yourself? When the teacher down the hall says that the student’s behaviors are unbearable, that contributes to your expectations of yourself as it pertains to managing the student’s behaviors. When you lower your personal perceptions of self-efficacy, you seriously hinder your own capabilities. It’s a double whammy. You’ve lowered your potential through your expectations of yourself, and you’ve lowered the student’s potential through your expectations of him. Let’s reverse the effect with three steps to success for yourself and every student in your classroom.
First, don’t listen to any teacher who has low expectations. The faculty room is no place to make judgments about what a student can or can’t do in the classroom. The minute you hear coworkers communicating less than the highest expectations for all students, realize that this is a reflection of how they perceive their own personal capabilities as teachers. Don’t take the bait.
Second, be explicit with your high expectations for yourself and for your students. Communicate overtly what you expect students to know, understand, and do during each period of instruction. Communicate what you expect from yourself. “Students, you’re going to see me coming around to check for your understanding. Everyone in here will make a clear statement about the themes from the novel before the end of the period. Be ready to tell the class your theme and why you think it’s the theme with textual evidence for support. I’m looking for 100 percent and no less. I’m absolutely certain that everyone can do this.” Notice words and phrases like “everyone” and “by the end of the period.” The explicitness of the expectations will drive the potential in the room for both the teacher’s actions and the students’ abilities and outcomes.
Third, be consistent, be consistent, be consistent. If you consistently demonstrate an “I can do this” attitude and an “I know you can do this” mindset (Dweck, 2008), you’ll change yourself and your students forever. Every day, every lesson, every kid. Accepting the power and responsibility that your expectations of potential are the only limitations on actual potential gives you the authority to have a positive influence on yourself and everyone you come in contact with. The definition of leadership is influence (Maxwell, 1993). Be a leader.
Does this sound like a Jedi mind trick? Maybe it is. Try it and let us know how it worked.
Bandura, A. (1982). Self-efficacy mechanism in human agency. American Psychologist, 37(2), 122-147.
Dweck, C. (2008). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine Books.
Maxwell, J. (1993). Developing the leader within you. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.