Wednesday: On Expectations
Setting appropriate expectations for students and parents is critical. For parents, this can be a touchy subject because it is hard to know what to expect when your student is under-performing. It is apt to draw charged emotions and differing opinions. What expectations do we have of our students, whether parent, teacher, or academic coach? In a perfect world, one where time is never an issue, education is well funded, student-teacher ratios are perfect, and every student learns the same exact way, placing expectations would be easy. But this isn’t a perfect world (my unicorn army notwithstanding.) We are cramped for time, teachers often have to use their own money for supplies, a lot of classrooms are crammed to the gills with students, and students do learn differently (often in ways not very efficient for a classroom setting).
So how can we set expectations?
I don’t know. Really, I don’t. It is a long, complex, and very individualized subject, perhaps not conducive to the arena of the blog, but I do know that it is a conversation worth having. However, as this is a blog, here are some of my thoughts.
Setting unreasonably high expectations is dangerous for students’ emotional well-being.
We all want what’s best for our kids. We want their lives to have every opportunity available and the worst thing that will ever happen is having to choose between them. We want them to be 4.0 students who are the starting quarterback and play the cello. But this is rarely the case. Instead, we get kids with both strengths and imperfections. They are individuals, each different from the other. In short, they are perfect incarnations of themselves. Setting unrealistic expectations runs the danger of them never achieving any of their goals and setting them up for a life where they never feel good enough, where they are never completely happy because they constantly feel like they’re letting you or themselves down. It can also lead them to ignore talents or strengths that weren’t implicitly set forth in those expectations.
Setting expectations that are too low is dangerous to their potential.
This is not “everyone gets a ribbon” participation time, and I’m not talking about setting a low bar so they can hit every goal and have a cookie. I’m talking about having a realistic vision of who the student is, what his/her goals are, his/her strengths and challenges, and what makes that student happy. Setting expectations too low can tend to make the student feel that life requires no effort. Even worse, it can make the student believe that a low level of expectation is warranted, that that is all they are capable of. Reasonable expectations should cause ‘work’ and they should cause a bit of stress to attain. Stress itself is not always a bad thing, it is only when the stress becomes overwhelming and debilitating that it becomes so.
Remember: They are them, not you.
This is perhaps the touchiest subject of all, but your child or student is not you. The old saying goes that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and for the most part that may be true. But sometimes that apple falls, bounces, and rolls into the next county. Setting expectations should not be driven by a parent’s need to live vicariously through their kids. On the other hand, it is also true that parents want the opportunities for their kids that were squandered in the parents’ youth. Sometimes, we want the accolades that we just missed to be theirs. But they are not us. They have their own challenges and their own strengths and what was right for you or me may not be right for them. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t try to teach them both from our victories, as well as from our failures— it is our exact duty to do so—but when we expect them to do as well in school or sports or the school play as we did we are doing them a great disservice.
Again, I don’t have the answers, but I will say that I see it as a major portion of my job as an academic coach to help each student become who they want to be, while at the same time sharing my own experience and advice. Students need our help, whether we are parents, teachers, or coaches. It is worth noting that a student can be improving and still not be achieving our expectations. I think it is important to applaud positive change while still pushing the student to do better. Again, this is a fine line.
I can say from my experience that when I’ve realized who a student truly is and stopped putting my own issues on them, they have amazed me with their own personal drive, every time. It just required me listening to their ambitions. Then we were able to move forward with them taking a more active role in their own goal setting.
SMART goals are a great way to help them set appropriate, measurable goals: click here to give it a try!
I would love to have an open discussion about this subject. Please comment below with your thoughts. As I mentioned above, this is a charged issue, so please keep any comments civil and in the manner of an open discussion. You can even comment on my dream of having a unicorn army if you’d like.