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I Already Have High Standards

Updated: Oct 14, 2019

Originally posted 2.16.17

Happy Thursday!

I have been reading Robyn Jackson’s Never Work Harder Than Your Students: And Other Principles of Great Teaching (2009) and came across the passage below that I thought was too good not to share.  She’s writing about the difference between having high standards versus having high expectations.  Take a moment to consider this difference before you read further because, if you’re like me, you couldn’t articulate this difference.  Now that I’ve read it, I’m thinking, “I never thought about it like this before but I can TOTALLY see it!” 

Interestingly enough, most teachers believe that have high expectations for their students, but when you examine what they are saying, what they really mean is that they have high standards.  It’s a subtle but important difference. 

The difference between an expectation and a standard is that the standard is the bar and the expectation is our belief about whether students will ever reach the bar.  Standards are the external criteria against which a product is evaluated.  A standard does not tell us anything about the beliefs.  What we believe about the standard, however, determines our expectations.

One common approach to raising teacher expectations is to impose or raise the standards by which students and teachers will be evaluated.  Proponents of this approach argue that by adopting a common set of standards, teachers will be very clear about what students are expected to know and be able to do.  They assume low expectations result from a poor understanding of what mastery is.  This approach, however, is fundamentally flawed.

As Judith Lloyd Yero (2002) argues in her book Teaching in Mind: How Teacher Thinking Shapes Education and on her Web site at, “It is possible to have extremely high expectations without any standards whatsoever.  Conversely, it is possible to have very low expectations – even when the external standards are extremely high.”

Raising standards is not the same thing as raising expectations.  Holding students accountable for more and more information does not change what we believe about a particular student’s ability to master that information.

There is no cause and effect relationship between raising standards and raising expectations.  Just because you raise your standards does not mean that you have also altered your belief about whether your students will be able to meet your standards.  In fact, the opposite may happen.  If you do not believe that students are able to meet your prior standards, how can you believe that they will be able to meet your new, higher standards?  Higher standards then may actually lower expectations. (p. 80)

I will share next week what she has to say about having expectations for students because it’s not what you would think.  In the meantime, I’m very interested in if you thought about standards versus expectations in the way explained here before reading this OR if this was as much of a Aha! to you.


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