When ‘high expectations’ aren’t enough

“High expectations” of students: it’s a ‘Q Standard’ on the PGCE, it’s a ‘Core Standard’ for an NQT, and it’s in many job descriptions I’ve seen for teaching posts. What are high expectations worth if you can’t make them happen? I’ve found it useful to analyse the situations where expectations aren’t met and try to remove any limiting factors to give students the best chance possible of meeting them in the future.
I recently asked another teacher at school to observe me with my most difficult class. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m lucky enough to work in a school where teachers are open and supportive when it comes to observations and they’re used mostly for personal reflection and improvement. After this particular lesson, the meeting for feedback from the observing teacher was a very positive experience and one piece of advice in particular stuck with me.

I was trying to start the lesson silently with the students attempting a settling ‘entrance activity’, as they do in nearly all of my lessons. As usual with this class it was a struggle to get them to stay silent, despite numerous attempts on my part, and in the end it didn’t really happen. My colleague picked up on this and also observed that part of the reason that it wasn’t silent in the classroom was that I was doing the register at the same time. As a result it was much harder for me to identify when or which students were talking, because a) I wasn’t fully concentrating on it and b) calling out the register (and the replies) was all sound that could mask the students’ low-level murmuring.

The advice I got was to do the register silently if possible, or slightly later in the lesson when silence wasn’t required. I couldn’t simply ask for and expect silence, I had to be active in making it happen: providing every opportunity for students to comply, and avoiding any factor that made that harder for them.

In most lessons since then I’ve changed the way I start them. The task is displayed for students to begin immediately, I stand at the front for several minutes doing very little other than watching them carefully and picking up on off-task behaviour. As a result my lessons now begin in genuine silence, with every single student engaged with a task that prepares them for learning, and this has a significant impact on the entire lesson (I still think it’s odd that, on reflection, the way in which the students begin the lesson can dictate the atmosphere for the entire hour). In my opinion one simple change has improved my whole classroom practice.

One point to be made from all of this is that high expectations of student achievement and behaviour don’t mean much without actively making them a reality; and that in order to do so it’s worth analysing what the limiting factors are so that you can get rid of them.

1 comment
  1. This is really interesting – I struggle with starters, which I blame on not having my own classroom and often arriving in classrooms before the kids do but I think actually I probably could put more into it. Something I’ll really think of next year in my NQT year – thank you!

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