Expectations: A new paradigm

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When it comes to expectations, most teachers will tell you,

“When in doubt, raise ‘em.”

Often, I think that works.  I’ve seen it in my own teaching .  When I set, articulate and work toward higher expectations, things generally turn out better.

It’s the old,

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”


But what if we swapped the word, “expectation” for the word “target?”

Hear me out.

Expectations are a double edged sword.  Set them too low and they become a self fulfilling prophecy–an artificial ceiling.  Set them too high, and you’re setting yourself (and/or your students) up for failure.

I know it sounds strange, but what if we consider not having expectations?   Instead, what if we set the targets, take aim, work as hard (and smartly, and efficiently, and effectively) as we can, and then simply observe the outcome.  Like a scientist.  Objectively.  Without judgment.

It’s not semantics.  It’s a paradigm shift.  And it’s not easy.  But creating an intention to let go of expectations in order to see your craft through a more objective lens will eliminate much of the drama and confusion swirling around your work.

And . . . it will turn you into a professional.


  1. I like this. Goal-setting is foundational to my method for teaching and learning. Most of my students can tell you what a SMART goal is and how they help shape our learning. One of the things I like to do with kids is to share quotes about goals. We often rip up the quote you mentioned (Shoot for the moon, even if you miss you’ll land among the stars.) The point is that targets must be ATTAINABLE. Yes, shoot high, but not higher than is to be reasonably expected. And, remember that success breeds success. But a little bit of failure ain’t bad either!

    • Thanks Rita!

      I just think there’s so much tension and emotion and angst tied up to the fencepost of “expectations.” I like the try, fail, adjust method. Where failure is fine. Just as fine as success. You know–as long as we know what to do with “failure” when she shows up.