Three Myths About High Expectations

Are high standards the same as high expectations? What are the core values that drive what’s important in your classroom? Do you believe in your ability as a teacher more than you believe in your students’ abilities?

In an #ASCD11 session taking on the sacred cow of high expectations, Robyn Jackson explained the importance of uncovering the myths that guide our expectations. She outlined three major myths:

The Standards Myth: The belief that higher standards will equal higher expectations. In fact, teachers must also assess, assign, be accountable, and provide support at the level of the standard to have both high standards and high expectations. Raise the standards, but also raise the resources for kids to reach and exceed them.

The Attribution Myth: We attribute reasons for kids’ successes and failures based on our own core values and cultural currencies. In fact, kids succeed and fail for many reasons and bring their own currencies to the classroom. Help them leverage and expand their currencies to access their own and shared values (like autonomy, sense of belonging, sense of mastery, and a sense of purpose) in a positive way.

The Pygmalion Myth: The greater the expectation, or the more you believe in a student, the better they will perform. Jackson said that this is the most dangerous myth and often the bait used for new teachers. What happens when students don’t learn? Are you just not believing hard enough? The Pygmalion Myth trivializes the hard work and teaching practices required for students to rise to high expectations.

“Our expectations are not about our students — they’re about us and what beliefs and values we bring to the classroom,” Jackson said.

Jackson’s session handouts initiated the process of unpacking high expectations with a series of reflection questions:

  • What are the brutal facts of your teaching situation?
  • How can you address these facts?
  • What are your core values?
  • How do you align or undermine those values in your classroom?
  • How can you reinvest in your core values?
  • How do you maintain unwavering faith that you will prevail?

Being realistic about your situation and honest about how your beliefs and values influence your practice will point the way to the practices that make high expectations actionable. “Even a student who does not believe in herself will begin to believe in a teacher that is unwavering,” Jackson concluded.

Have you seen these myths play out in your classroom? How do you confront myths about high expectations?


  1. Laura,
    Thanks for sharing this posting! I especially liked what Jackson wrote in conclusion to his handout, “If you believe that you can reach any student no matter what, then it does not matter what your students’ abilities are. You will find a way to reach them. But, if you believe that you can only be successful with a certain type of student, then you may not persist with students who don’t fit your ideal student.” This is so true!

  2. Well said with, “Bait used for new teachers,” concerning the Pygmalion Myth.
    The Standards Myth is especially true when the higher standards come from the top down. Unfortunately I hear all the time that students cannot perform to the level expected in our district. Higher standards developed without teacher input result in frustration for teachers that is later passed on to students.
    The Pygmalion Myth has merit, but the teacher’s reaction when the expectation is not met is critical. Believing in students and then believing in our ability to reach students is key to handling situations when we feel like we have failed. If a teacher has high expectations for their students and themselves as an instructor, they will continue to reflect and try new things with struggling students. Without the expectations, a teacher will be susceptible to burnout or giving up. I have also seen teachers that give up on students after they believe they have done all they can. They have the expectations and belief in themselves, therefore, they place the blame on the student when a learning goal is not met. There needs to be an equal balance (between the teacher and learner) of expectation for optimal success.


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