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May 2016 Tip of the Month: "Oh, that is what you mean!"

Posted by 
Mitch Weathers
May 12, 2016

Tip Of The Month

May 2016: "Oh, that is what you mean!"

Whenever I get the privilege of speaking to a group of educators I always make a point to ask one simple question, “What are teachers doing from within the classroom that most directly impacts student learning and achievement?”  The responses always vary but one classroom strategy is always highlighted: have very clear expectations.

I agree that high expectations are critical in the classroom to help all students achieve. In order to have effective high expectations two questions must be answered: 1. What are the right expectations? and 2. How do we communicate them to students (ie make them “clear”).

High expectations tend to come in lists that might look something like this:

  1. Be on time
  2. Be respectful
  3. Be prepared
  4. Bring your materials
  5. Try your hardest

I’m of the mindset that fewer expectations are better. I am also convinced that it is not really the list that is most important. What is paramount is a second question, "How do we communicate these expectations to our students?"

Most of us include these lists in our syllabi and many teachers post them on the wall of the classroom in a strategic location to maximize exposure. These tactics are fine, maybe even necessary or mandated, but I find that I still need to continually remind my students of my high expectations.

While training a high school staff we were talking about how to use the Kick-Off prompt on Organized Binder's Weekly Lifeline (Page B). We had reviewed many of the strategies explained in these Tip of the Month posts but there were still a few perplexed looks on teachers' faces. Then I showed them a video clip of a classroom starting with the Kick-Off prompt. As we watched a teacher sitting in the back shouted out, “Oh! That is what you mean. Now I get it.” Since that time he has been using the Weekly Lifeline as it is intended and seeing amazing results.

During my next visit to this school for the Follow-Up Session I asked him to articulate in his own words what seeing the video did for him that my presentation did not. He simply responded by telling me you showed me what it looks like in the classroom instead of just explaining what it looks like in the classroom.

This is exactly what Organized Binder does for teachers and students. It makes our high expectations plainly clear. For example, it shows students what it means to be on time (you are in your assigned seat with your binder open to your Weekly Lifeline). It shows them how to be organized (all assignments are in chronological order behind the Table of Contents (Page F). It shows them how to set goals, be a reflective learner, maintain a personal calendar, create study tools, name a few.

I have come to the conclusion that one of the reasons teachers and students are so successful with Organized Binder is many of the teacher’s high expectations are not just explained and posted, they are also experienced each and every day in the classroom (parallel-process). As I proposed last month, we must increasingly make students more subjects in their education and less objects in that experience (Paulo Freire p. 33 Pedagogy of the Oppressed). To do so we must do what Lisa Delpit describes, make explicit that which is implicit in the classroom (Lisa Delpit, Other People's Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom).

Rather than telling students, what if we all communicated our classroom expectations by showing them what it looks like to accomplish them? Clear high expectations must be shown not explained. For fun try it. Take down the list (if you post one) and come up with a strategy to show your students exactly what it looks like in the classroom to fulfill each expectation. If you try it, let me know how it goes.

Thanks for reading,


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