What Does it Mean to have High Expectations for Children?
All the research shows (what our intuition knows) that children rise to our expectations of them. The work of Carol Dweck reinforces this wisdom.
And educational reformers all know the research and use it to justify work on “standards” and “holding people accountable” for high standards.
But what does it mean to have high expectations? What does it look like?
What does it feel like? What does it sound like?
If a parent says: “I expect you to get A’s,” is that a good example of high expectations?
If a teacher says: “I am expecting you to behave well on this trip?” What is her attitude?
If a parent says: “I expect you not to cheat,” doesn’t it depend on the tone of voice?
It’s not so much what you say. It’s what you take for granted. Parents who take for granted that their children are capable humans find that, low and behold, their children believe they are capable and will maintain this expectation even in the face of evidence to the contrary.
Approach A: Adults take for granted their child is capable. Child acts as if he is capable and steps up to challenges. When he fails or make mistakes, he adjusts his grip and tries again; his assumption that he is capable is not touched. He takes it for granted because the adults have never done anything to make him question that assumption. He goes through life learning about his strengths and weaknesses, his loves and his dislikes, and treats successes and failures mostly the same–as learning opportunities. This dynamic yields success—or should we say, it yields a lifetime of successes and failures that add up to a good life because the child believed in himself.
Approach B goes like this: the adults worry about their child’s chances for success, and say things like “I expect you to…” in such a way that the child hears that the parent believes that the outcome could go either way. A low outcome will be evidence of capability. The child feels: “My capability is by no means a certainty in my parent’s mind. The jury is out until enough successes come in.” B is a common formula for a self-perpetuating negative mindset which makes failure more likely—even in the face of a number of successes.
Approach B (B is for bad) is often picked up by schools. When teachers tell their kids what they expect, do they really expect it in the sense of “anticipate” or are they putting pressure on their students out of fear of failure? After all if we don’t get those test scores up the funding will go away—or worse.
Dreams come true, and fears are negative dreams.