Great expectations

It’s easy to bandy about the words “high expectations” but so much harder to enforce that in reality.

I came from a private school. We would stand when adults came in. We were given half an hour detentions where we were shouted at by the scariest teacher in the school if we chewed gum. The one time someone made a snarky comment undermining a teacher in a lesson, they were sent straight to the headmistress’ office.

This meant every single lesson was focussed on learning, not behaviour management. We were able to learn so much in every hour.

When I hear about “high expectations” of pupils, this is what I think of. Expecting impeccable behaviour and academic success. If you fall short (which everyone will), you have a detention, you say sorry, and get a new chance.

These are the expectations we should want for pupils for their sakes. So why doesn’t it happen in lots of schools? Well here are a few I’ve been pondering for starters:

  1. Dominant school culture and legacy. Introducing massively new high standards in a school which has been average is hard. Pupils will laugh the first time you tell them you want to sit up straight if that’s never been expected before.
  2. Pressure not to give too many detentions or other sanctions. There’s a sense that you’re not giving children a “chance to get it right” if you give too many detentions.
  3. Inclusion agenda. In too many schools, pupils’ SEN (BESD in particular) can be a get out of jail free card. I’m all for inclusion, but not without the necessary support for them to be genuinely included and in a way that does not affect the learning of others in the classroom.
  4. No ultimate sanction in the short term. What happens when you ask a child to leave your room? If they know that they can simply say “no” and continue their misbehaviour, you’re doomed. Too often I’ve seen “on call” take an age to turn up or don’t turn up at all… and if they do, they might just plead with the student for 5 seconds and allow them to return to the class.
  5. No ultimate sanction in the medium term. What do you do when a child doesn’t turn up to detentions? Is there support to help pick them up at the end of the day? If they’re absent on the day of the scheduled detention, does it get forgotten about? If they’ve got three detentions from three teachers, do they get to serve them as one detention and tick all three off? If there’s a way to play the system, children will sniff it out and use it. Systems have got to be watertight.
  6. No ultimate sanction long term. Children who run riot in the school and cause chaos are given “last chance” after “last chance” because so much evidence is needed for permanent exclusion. The message this sends reverberates right down the school.

So many children just want to go to school, sit in interesting, calm lessons, learn a lot and succeed (even the really naughty ones). We owe it to them to make them behave exceptionally well.

10 thoughts on “Great expectations

  1. @taylorda01

    I feel for you – a lot. I started at a school like this after going from one school to another after a merge. The first two weeks of term were spent with my form – keeping them occupied, with little given to us – and when timetables did arrive for the kids, mine wasn’t ready. It took me about a week to look for jobs and a month to start a seriously proper search. I agreed to accept a post in March of that year, as I was waiting for confirmation from my head of department re: him staying (he didn’t) because of things he said.
    I spent a car journey from Leeds to Hereford penning a letter, and the journey back properly sorting it, to the head to discuss my concerns regarding my timetable and the problems that the school was encountering (two sites, one of which he visited 5 times in a whole year which was as your post describes). He told me I was wrong and that he didn’t want to continue our conversation.
    I remember the classes I taught rather well – a year 7 class full of bright kids who would be a joy to teach at other schools but who were allowed to disrupt without any major comeback, a year 8 top set with kids who’ll struggle to get a D at GCSE (due to banding), a year 9 class who had all the elements of a nice class but the three or four kids who could disrupt, did, without SMT coming down on them, a year 10 class who were nearer the bottom end with four kids who came in and out of lessons at will with the blessing of year leaders and a year 11 class who cried off to their year leader when told off who would come to me and explain that ‘they have issues, so please don’t speak to them like that’.
    On top of all this, I went between the two sites 14 times per week (and for the first term I didn’t drive) and had a rather odd teaching assistant informing pupils that ‘we were going out’ after 2 months of ignoring her after my repeated concerns to SMT had gone unnoticed.

    However, I am now at a better school. Our kids stand up when members of staff enter the room, but the behaviour issues still stand (on a much lesser scale). As long as you do all that you can, show your competencies and work on your skills for interviews, and continue hold those high expectations of yourself, then a post that you would be proud of holding and pupils who will respond to your expectations will eventually find you.

    1. RedGreen Post author

      Sounds an absolute nightmare! It’s the year 7 type classes that break my heart. They come in bright, cheery, willing to learn and the awful school culture ruins them within a term. They need and want boundaries. It’s so hard to do as a single class teacher without the support of the school though.

  2. Sarah

    While things at my school HAVE improved, I recognise so much of this. It’s heartbreaking, soul-destroying, and takes up so much of our time. Time that SHOULD be spent planning, assessing, and feeding back.

    1. RedGreen Post author

      Oh god you reminded me Sarah. The HOURS I have spent on SIMS logging things (worded ever so carefully so they won’t bite me in the bum, of course), tracking detentions, emailing form tutors…

    2. Susan Frost

      yes I logged stuff on sims too but only realised it was annoying my boss, I also would set detentions and again it annoyed him as he thought it ”too harsh” even though the kids were running around my room and doing nothing, in the end a year 9 student asked me ‘why don’t I take control of their class’. I was dying to say ‘because when I tried my manager and your ‘brilliant’ head of maths department shot me down.’

  3. krisboulton

    It sounds like you’re quickly on the right track. I always interpreted ‘high expectations’ in academic terms: believe that they’re capable of high grades. I think most people interpret it in those terms.

    It took me at least half the first year before I realised that I didn’t have high expectations of their conduct, and that this was far more difficult, and perhaps far more important than whimsical dreams about what ‘could’ happen in an ideal world..

    You’re also spot on – ‘behaviour management’ is meaningless when school structures don’t support the teacher. It can become a buzz phrase with which to chastise classroom teachers: “Kids running amok? You’re behaviour management must not be good enough! Nothing the school can do about that.”

    1. RedGreen Post author

      Indeed! If we believe in growth mindsets and effort mattering more than talent, it is more important than ever that behaviour is spot on.

    2. krisboulton

      Willingham’s cognitive model is great for understanding the nature of growth mindsets. It may be oversimplified, but with intelligence as a function of both working and long-term memory, it helps explain the perceived ‘higher intellect’ of some students (both stronger working memories, and better filled LTMs), whilst maintaining that the ‘slower’ students can still become far more intelligent over time by building their long-term memories.

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