Does your classroom have hidden expectations?

18 Feb

Teaching is a funny profession. Everybody has an opinion about it, because they have been involved with it, either as a student, a parent or a teacher. That is why classrooms carry loads of emotional baggage, thus always being a battlefield for different sets of expectations.

Every single person entering a classroom has their own expectations regarding learning, teaching, socializing or just education in general. It might not be a clear expectation, or even something they would have actively been thinking about, nevertheless it creates a filter that “colours” everything this person sees in the classroom. Think of coloured shades: depending of the colour of the lens, the whole classroom looks different. And this expectation makes us see exactly those things we want to see (or what we don’t want – because the focus can be the negative expectation, too).

Hidden expectations in the classoom can be about talking, moving, looking and help seeking.

Discussing classroom expectations openly is fortunately a common current practice, as well is creating classroom rules together with students. However, sometimes we still have other expectations that are not spelled out. It takes a fair amount of reflection to figure out what we implicitely expect to happen. Professional learning with collegues and visiting each others’ classroom are great ways to start a discussion of what we do expect.

The hidden expectations that are never discussed tend to appear as “ghosts” in the classroom: hard to detect and hard to address or handle. But they they have a strong effect on how your students learn. Students’ expectations for school or learning in general are often far from realistic, but this does not diminish the emotional and cognitive effect of them, unfortunately.

Have you ever heard about “inherited math-phobia”? A belief how nobody in a family has ever been good at math. Or how in some other family nobody has ever learned to read well and enjoy it…? Or how a student is highly intelligent in one area, and thus should only concentrate on improving that single skill?  You know what I am talking about, right? These expectations will make learning very hard for students, unless they are gently addressed in the class. This is a big part of SEL and supporting our students’ self-awareress as individuals and students.

Learning is a complex process, and we don’t even know all factors contributing to good quality learning. Students’ subjective learning experiences in the everyday classroom context are the building blocks of their education. Based on these experiences, students construct their academic self-images and self-efficacy beliefs. And we have learned about things that make learning harder. One of these things is poor communication, when the message is received in a very different way than it was sent. Hidden expectations are one part explaining why and how this happens.

Using focused and effective feedback in your classroom is one way of addressing these hidden expectations and ensuring that you and your students are talking about the same things. It creates opportunities to understand what your students are thinking, and provides situations for asking those very important open-ended questions. Please remember: learning happens in interactions and only those mistakes that are allowed to be corrected can help students to learn more.

Discussing expectations should be one part of casual communications in education. After all we share the ultimate goal: to see our students succeed in their lives (and studies, too).

One Response to “Does your classroom have hidden expectations?”


  1. Teachers’ learning process has three dimensions | NotesFromNina - January 1, 2014

    […] teaching-learning situations. They can be visible in the choices and interactions, or veiled in hidden expectations.  I want to encourage all teachers and professors to engage in value discussions  and joint […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: