A new study from the Center for American Progress concludes that teachers' expectations for their students are strongly correlated with students' graduation rates.
Conversely, the study also says that teachers don't necessarily have high expectations for all their students, especially poorer students and those of color.
The study focuses on the Pygmalion effect, the theory holding that higher expectations of a person leads to higher performance. The opposite can also be true: If low expectations are placed on someone, they're more likely to perform poorly.
Drawing on the results of a long-term study by the National Center for Education Statistics, the CAP analysis finds that students whose high school teachers had high expectations of them graduated from college at three times the rate of those whose teachers had low expectations.
Teacher expectations, according to the study, turned out to be more predictive of students' futures than student motivation or effort. Teachers, the study found, were also able to predict a student's college success with greater accuracy than parents or even the students themselves.
However, the study also reports that secondary teachers viewed high-poverty students as 53 percent less likely to graduate from college than their classmates from wealthier backgrounds. Black and Hispanic students were also deemed 47 percent and 42 percent less likely, respectively, to graduate than white students.
7 Ways Teachers Can Change Their Expectations
Researcher Robert Pianta offered these suggestions for teachers who want to change their behavior toward problem students:
Watch how each student interacts. How do they prefer to engage? What do they seem to like to do? Observe so you can understand all they are capable of.
Listen. Try to understand what motivates them, what their goals are and how they view you, their classmates and the activities you assign them.
Engage. Talk with students about their individual interests. Don't offer advice or opinions – just listen.
Experiment: Change how you react to challenging behaviors. Rather than responding quickly in the moment, take a breath. Realize that their behavior might just be a way of reaching out to you.
Meet: Each week, spend time with students outside of your role as "teacher." Let the students choose a game or other nonacademic activity they'd like to do with you. Your job is to NOT teach but watch, listen and narrate what you see, focusing on students' interests and what they do well. This type of activity is really important for students with whom you often feel in conflict or who you avoid.
Reach out: Know what your students like to do outside of school. Make it a project for them to tell you about it using some medium in which they feel comfortable: music, video, writing, etc. Find both individual and group time for them to share this with you. Watch and listen to how skilled, motivated and interested they can be. Now think about school through their eyes.
Reflect: Think back on your own best and worst teachers, bosses or supervisors. List five words for each that describe how you felt in your interactions with them. How did the best and the worst make you feel? What specifically did they do or say that made you feel that way? Now think about how your students would describe you. Jot down how they might describe you and why. How do your expectations or beliefs shape how they look at you? Are there parallels in your beliefs and their responses to you?
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