Teachers are constantly challenged with improving student engagement, something they know directly impacts student learning outcomes. A USC Rossier School of Education Center EDGE survey this year queried 1,400 teachers about the engagement strategies they use most often in their classrooms and those they think will hold most value next year. For 2022, the most common response was building relationships with students. In 2023, educators anticipate establishing high expectations for students.
The prioritization of these two practices alongside each other begs the question of how teachers can balance these two strategies — one of which relies on kindness and compassion, and the other which lends itself to more serious goal-setting and intense conversations. The key is approaching high expectations as an integral part of building strong relationships.
Raising the bar for learners
When we approach setting high expectations as a positive and nurturing experience, we can integrate these two strategies to support students more effectively in meeting their goals. Showing your students that you see them — that you understand their areas of growth, you care about their goals, and you know they can achieve them — builds trust and demonstrates your commitment to helping them progress.
Setting high expectations is often (and should be) an individualized process. The conversation when setting student goals is a powerful opportunity to convey how much you care. You can demonstrate your investment in them by asking them about their personal goals.
Compelling prompts can help students think about their goals and demonstrate that you care about them as students in your class and as human beings. For younger students, this could look like even introducing the concept of goal setting, and asking them what kind of book they’d hope to be able to read by the end of the year. For older students, that may look more expansive, with prompts including:
- What change do you want to see in your community? How would you like to be a part of creating that change?
- How do you envision your life at 25? What about when you’re 40?
- What impact do you want to have on your family, friends, and community?
These types of prompts allow you to connect with your students meaningfully. Once they have a clear vision for their future selves (whether that be long-term life goals, or reading levels they hope to reach by the next assessment), you can help them identify what it will take to achieve these goals, like collaboratively backward-mapping the steps required to reach them. You can start at a high-level: What type of experiences and education will they need? What courses will they need to take? From there, you can start asking: what skills and knowledge will they need to master in your class in order to be set up for success at the next stage. Finally, you can ask them to set in-class goals for their performance to put them on a path to realizing their long-term aspirations.