Expectations and motivation

8750253403_2afa7c1fb6_b1) High expectations

In 1992, Harvard professor Robert Rosenthal showed to what extent high expectations have a transformative power in the classroom (click here for more information).

However, what does the expression “high expectations” really mean? What do you do, what do you say when you have high expectations?

2) Aspirations vs. expectations

Before we define “high expectations”, it is worth mentioning the fact that aspirations and expectations are 2 different things.

  • Aspirations  = wanting to be better

  • Expectations = a belief about the likelihood of success.

Raising expectations has been proven to help pupils, but the same can’t be said for aspirations.

3) What do high expectations look like?

Below is a succinct list of what you could do to make sure you set up “high expectations” at all times: 

  • As teacher, be excellent in all ways (don’t ask students to do things you wouldn’t do yourself)

  • Raise the bar right now (at the very beginning of the year if possible)

  • Be realistic!

  • Get parents involved

  • Make failure unacceptable (the idea of failure rather than failing a test let’s say: failures and mistakes are obviously part of the learning process) 

  • Celebrate small victories (and share with as many people as possible)

  • Encourage high self-expectations

  • Show your students that doing more than required is required

  • Use simple words of praise and mean them!

  • Use “High Expectations Postures” (see video below)

4) Setting High Expectations: 

5) High Expectations Postures: 

6) The Pygmalion Effect vs. The Golem Effect

As explained in thehighlyeffectiveteacher.com, “Your students will live up (or down!) to your expectations. Student achievement is strongly affected by what the teacher expects of them and this has been demonstrated by many educational researchers.  The first and most famous experiment is known as the Pygmalion effect.”

The Pygmalion effect is the phenomenon whereby

higher expectations lead to an increase in performance.

The opposite of this is the Golem effect – named after a mythical violent monster – where low expectations can lead to people performing worse as a result of other people’s expectations.

When we treat man as he is, we make him worse than he is; when we treat him as if he already were what he potentially could be, we make him what he should be.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The Pygmalion Effect: 

7) High expectations, growth mindset and fixed mindset


As define earlier, expectations are a belief about the likelihood of success.

The concept of growth mindset as developed by Prof. Carole S. Dweck has a lot in common with high expectations. To develop a growth mindset one has to:

  • Make effort (and praise effort)
  • Use different strategies (and ask metacognitive questions to avoid repeating the same mistakes)
  • Focus on learning, development and improvement (rather than outscoring a classmate)
  • Ask for feedback as an opportunity to learn new things, develop and challenge oneself
  • Develop persistence (or the ability to persist and overcome setbacks)
  • Choose difficult rather than easy ones
  • Set high standards for oneself. 

A fixed mindset is about avoiding all of the above.

Combining high expectations and growth mindset is the forward.

Growth Mindset: