I just love to talk about expectations, and not just because I’m a sociology nerd and a self-exploration junkie, but because it is such a profoundly influential, and profoundly overlooked factor in education. People do mention it in their sweeping goals, but few take it seriously, and most are apt to do some serious eye-rolling. I understand the impulse to say “oh sheesh!” at the idea of spending time thinking about your expectations environment in the classroom and working towards creating higher expectations in the face of what is expected of educators today. But, in my experience in the EC classroom, this is a keystone issue, it touches the foundations of all other issues; without it, you don’t have a structure for achievement.
This is not a new subject; in fact, my previous post discussed the possibility of overcoming society’s expectations for individuals with complex needs when we teach the many forms of “readiness”.
A recent installment of Invisibilia, a National Public Radio webcast on the invisible forces effecting our lives, examined expectations by focusing on blindness as a social condition. In How To Become Batman, the hosts highlight research which examines the small but significant impact of tiny changes in behavior caused by, you guessed it, high or low expectations. They go on to examine how societal expectations can shape how we each view the world around us, the possibilities in our lives and ultimately what we actually do in the world.
This is a wonderful introduction to the grey area that the Disability Studies movement has been talking about for a long time. While it is a fact that certain human variations are limiting in ability, it is also a fact that at least some portion of that limit on ability is put in place and maintained by societal norms around and misunderstanding of the disabilities and/or individuals with complex needs.
I have seen evidence of this in classrooms for years, and in many cases it is what I find to be that seemingly intangible factor in the the classroom of a really great teacher. Really great teachers of students with significant and profound complex needs always expect to find a learner in their students, and when they don’t find one, they keep looking. When no progress is being made, when there are no clear responses, when academic goals seem pointless, these educators keep providing exposure to meaningful content, re-examining the nature of the skill deficits, thinking carefully about getting to the next minute step and watching closely for growth.
Expectations, as it turns out, are everything; they’re the ballgame.