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High Expectations

This week I have been fortunate to be able visit a number of lessons.  In particular I was investigating our expectations and seeking to find out how members of staff are setting out and achieving high expectations with different groups of students.  As the week has progressed a number of common elements have been consistent in all lessons where expectations have been high, teachers challenge students to achieve the standards they are seeking in the following areas:

  • Routines
  • Academic challenge
  • Feedback
  • Engagement
  • Behaviour

It is evident from visiting lessons this week that we have high expectations of our students.  As with many things there is a degree of variability between colleagues.  I thought that it would be a useful post to explore high expectations further and try to share the successes of colleagues who are currently making their high expectations work for them in terms of facilitating some really good learning.

A summary of the high expectations I witnessed:

  • A clear understanding that the reason students were entering a classroom was to learn. This was presented in such a way as to challenge students to succeed.
  • High challenge for all students irrespective of their starting points, in terms of increasing complexity or sophistication of tasks.
  • Teachers providing high quality diagnostic feedback and students being given the opportunity to respond to it.
  • An expectation that all students would contribute; facilitated by rigorous questioning.
  • An insistence on the highest standards of behaviour.


The most effective teachers seemed to have clearly communicated and insisted upon a series of routines that allowed the transition from travelling to the lesson to actually engaging with the learning to be as smooth and seamless as possible.  Different teachers had slightly different methods (that vary from class to class based on the specific requirements of the group) but the consistent amongst all was meeting and greeting students as they enter the room, with a smile or making use of their name!  Immediately students seemed at ease and an element of trust was established. A positive part of this process was students being directed towards prepared learning (starter) activities that are set up ready for the students upon their entry to the room. This sent a powerful message about the intentions of the lesson. In instances where students are provided with starters and there is a clear understanding of the routines involved in the start of lessons, students seemed to be engaged and on task to a greater degree. An example is available from Teach Like a Champion here.

Academic Challenge

In lessons where high standards were most evident there was always a clear, challenging learning goal with an expectation that all would work towards achieving it. This was particularly effective when the learning goals are presented as; <> so that <> (known as the “so that of learning”, Zoe Elder @fullonlearning (follow her on twitter!) has written a great blog about it here).  Success criteria for these learning goals were made very clear, allowing students of all abilities (different starting points) the chance to achieve challenging goals.  To facilitate this achievement different degrees of support and scaffold were evident but always the teacher had a mastery focus. Successful teachers insist on students achieving mastery of non-negotiable aspects of learning, yet at the same time are accepting of the fact that students make progress at different rates. In the lessons I saw, the best teachers are adept at facilitating learning for groups of students who master elements at different times, those teachers are able to extend those who have mastered the learning focus by increasing the complexity or the level of sophistication at which the students operate, without dumbing down the initial learning goal.




The students who were expected to respond to feedback using the green pen strategy at a planned point in their learning, engaged well and could explain how their work had been improved as a result of the feedback . The expectation from the teacher was that students would develop the work in response to the feedback without compromising on academic challenge i.e. the feedback provided was developmental and presented another challenge rather than annotating the answer in the margin; the expectation from the student was that the teacher would give feedback that would help them progress their learning further.  Where students were provided with planned opportunities to respond to feedback their expectations of themselves seemed higher. The teacher providing feedback and then giving a chance for improvement seems to add value in the minds of the students to the process of marking.

Top Tip: Plan time into lessons for students to respond to the marking you have done!



A range of strategies were used to engage students.  The most effective that I saw was quality questioning that engages all students and then seeks to extend their thinking and enquiry to develop understanding.  @teachertoolkit (follow him on twitter!) talks about this in his Pose, Pause, Pounce, Bounce questioning blog here.  There was an expectation that all students will be ready to answer with an implicit understanding from pupils that if the question leaves them stuck the teacher will reframe the question to make it accessible before then trying to extend them.  The introduction of Mintclass software was helping with this as some teachers were using the random student generator, but others were just really good at asking questions to different students.


In all lessons where expectations were high there were strong behaviour management techniques being used.  This resulted in high degrees of on task behaviour from students which adds to a sense of high expectations. There are a multitude of techniques that staff were using, a great place to start is this blog by @headguruteacher (follow him on twitter too!) about behaviour management featuring Bill Rogers.

Top Tips: Insist on 100% focus when it is needed and silence when it is required and do not compromise the standards that you have set, ever! Praise students meeting expectations and above all be consistent!

Why might it be important for teachers to clearly communicate the expected standards to classes especially when taking on a new class?

Clearly communicated expectations that are regularly reinforced, produce a familiar environment where students have a clear understanding of the part and the responsibilities they have in the learning process.  The teacher’s responsibility is the setting out of the expectations and the deployment of strategies that ensure the expectations are consistently met. Consistency of expectation from the teacher is very important in developing the familiar environment that students seem to prefer and subsequently respond positively to.  Remember consistency does not have to be boring!

Consistency allows the teacher to develop a learning environment that is high challenge with high levels of support (Daloz 1986).


When this occurs pupils seem to be more likely to take learning risks and then subsequently develop.  The high challenge causes students to become ‘stuck’ and have to work hard at their learning, which combined with the high degree of support from the teacher or other adults allows them to be ‘unstuck’ and therefore make progress.



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