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Creating a Culture  Of High Expectations For All Students

This strategy is one that Larry Bell includes in the “Creating a Classroom Culture of High Expectations for All Students” section of his “The Power of a Teacher Through High Expectations” workshop. See the sidebar for more information about this workshop and others.

When I was in the classroom I had one overriding goal. My goal was to make every child feel that he or she is the reason I teach. By doing that, I felt I could create a classroom culture that set high expectations for all students. To accomplish that goal, I employed a handful of tools, and I’d like to share a few of the simplest ones with you.

Power names. All of my students had pet names. I referred to one student as My Wonderful One. I called another My Hard-Working One. Another I referred to as My Super Star. I called a particularly deep-thinking child My Pensive One. I called another My Dedicated One. To each student I gave a name that matched some positive attribute of their personalities. I would refer to that student by his or her power name all year long.

Everyone loves a compliment. Somewhere along the way I heard the quote “Everyone loves a compliment” attributed to Abraham Lincoln. I can’t track down a source for that quote, but I can verify that that simple fact has not changed since the Lincoln said it in the1860s. Everyone still loves a compliment. I bestowed compliments on my students by using power names, and in many other ways. When bestowing compliments, however, I always made certain to say things that everyone in the class knew to be true. As educators, we can’t blow smoke at kids. They know when we’re being disingenuous. But they also know when we are being sincere.

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Brag on your students for the little things they do well. If you’ve got a tough kid and you want to turn that kid around, you can do that. You can do that by being that teacher who remembers the good things about your students. Many at-promise kids will say, “My teacher only remembers the bad things about me.” If you can be that teacher who always remembers the good things, you have gone a long way toward creating a culture in your classroom that breeds high expectations. Didn’t Shakespeare say in The Tempest that “We are such things as dreams are made on”? I want you to be your students’ dream teacher. I want you to call them good names every day. I want you to brag on them for being on time. Brag about that at-promise child for her effort. Brag on him for his neatness. Brag on the student who is respectful to you. Brag on the student who helps another. Brag on the student who doesn’t give up. Brag on the student who asks questions during class. Brag on the students who show up on time for class. If you’re going to create that personal relationship that is the key to creating a classroom culture of high expectations, call them good things. Brag on them every day.

Never accept excuses. Sometimes developing a classroom culture of high expectations requires taking a stand. I gave students power names, I bragged on them all the time too. But I never accepted their excuses for not having their work done. However, when I had to lean on students who did not meet my high expectations, I always did it with compassion. With compassion. When the student came in and said he didn’t have his homework, I would say, “I understand why you don’t have it. You say you had to work last night. You got home late. You had to put your brothers and sister to bed. And then you had to get them up this morning and get them ready for school. That’s why you don’t have your homework, right?” And when they said yes, that was when I told them, “I understand. It’s just that I expect better than this from you. I want better for you than to work at McDonalds. That’s an honest living. If that’s what you want to do, that’s up to you. But I want better than that of you. I want my homework every day. If you can do all that you say you do, then you can do my homework. See me before school or after school if you need help, but don’t come in here without my work because you are better than that.” I had one line that my students heard over and over again. That one line never changed. I always said, “I understand. It’s just that I expect better than this out of you. From somebody else, maybe. But not from you.” I’d tell kids repeatedly, “No, you are better than that. I want you to go home and do the homework anyway, even if you will only get partial credit. Please don’t let me down again. You are better than that. I expect so much better than that out of you.”

I really and truly believe that if you’re going to create a classroom culture that says you expect a lot out of every child, every child ought to be called a power name. Every child ought to be bragged on. Start early in the school year building that relationship, but never accept excuses; for when you do that, you become an enabler.

My friends, somebody needs you.
Larry Bell

Article by Larry Bell
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