How Teachers Should Manage Expectations of Students, Parents and Communities

From the Principal's Office Updated June 11, 2015

In this two-part series, I’m examining the evolving relationships and expectations that schools face in our hyperconnected and information-driven world.

It’s only natural to focus on managing student expectations — after all, our primary focus and responsibility has to be on their continued care, growth and development as contributing members of society — but we also need to look beyond the faces in the classroom and learn to handle the expectations of parents and the wider community. These tips can help you figure out how to deal with those expectations.

(Previously in Part 1: Managing the expectations of colleagues and administrators)

Read on to learn more:
>Students
>Parents
>Community

Managing student expectations: Some things have not changed

One trap many of us fall into is thinking that with all the changes in society, the fundamental nature of childhood has changed — that children today are different from those of a decade or even a century ago.

Today's hyperconnected students expect speedy responses in the classroomYes, children may look different and may know more things about the world, but the essence of what childhood is about remains the same. As children grow into adulthood, they still need help navigating the sometimes rocky waters of youth. They also will try to resist adults’ efforts to help and guide them.

So, sure, things have changed for children, but for the most part, childhood remains the same.

Don’t mistake knowledge for wisdom

It’s tempting to think that easy access to information on the Internet is the same thing as having the wisdom to use that information to make good decisions.

As a teacher, you should not assume that just because many students know so much more about the world, that they can use that knowledge effectively. Today’s students need teachers who will help them with the skill of discernment — identifying the quality of an information source and assessing its reliability.

Face up to their need for speed

We’ve all noticed how the amount of time between a request and an answer has been drastically shortened. Think of making a bank deposit or writing a check. For many years we’d have to wait one to two business days for money to “clear” the bank, but now these transactions are instantaneous. Another example is online ordering. Within a few minutes, a student can search for, find and order an item to be delivered the next day (and if one listens to Amazon, it may even be dropped off by a drone!).

It’s only natural for your students to expect that kind of speed in the classroom. Be sure to investigate online tools that offer quicker grading and grade reporting, and that offer real-time, up-to-the-minute feedback on a child’s progress.

It’s not that students don’t know how to wait anymore — it’s that most of them live in a world where they don’t have to. Modifying your classroom practice to address this is the right thing to do.

Get them working together (and alone)

It’s never been so easy for people to reach out and contact another person. This access and connection has made many of our students feel comfortable meeting, interacting and working with others.

Along with this “cultural comfort,” students also have a wide swath of tools at their disposal that enable them to collaborate effectively from a distance. Be sure to take advantage of both their attitude toward collaboration and the resources at your disposal to develop both student interest and academic success.

That being understood, be sure to build in “alone” time for students to mull over, consider and tackle individual problems. Balance is the key, and getting them working both together and alone will develop the wide spectrum of skills they need for today’s world.

Re-evaluate the worksheet

Rote practice and sequential learning should still play a role in your learning, but again, it’s all about balance. All classrooms should have clear routines and expectations, as everyone works best under those two conditions, but be sure to take a look at what you’re having the students complete as their classwork. Make sure that the convenience of a worksheet or lecture isn’t the primary reason for an activity in your classroom.

Today’s students want to be challenged, and also want to take part in activities that enable them to work together and access the incredible resources that are literally at their fingertips. Have students changed? Yes, but childhood hasn’t. Try your best to recognize and value both of those things.

Parents: They Must Share Your Expectations

Teachers and parents each have specific expectations -- working together is key to meeting expectationsAs we explore the evolving expectations placed upon today’s teachers, we cannot ignore their all-important relationships with parents. Understanding parents’ often complex expectations is essential to helping their children succeed in school. Here’s how to make that happen:

Communicate, communicate, communicate

As society evolves regarding the sharing of information, it’s important to remember that parents expect to know more about their child’s progress on a consistent basis. Many schools have moved to “real-time” grade reporting that is updated weekly, or even daily.

Today it’s essential to keep all your parents in the loop as much as possible. We live in a society in which information is instantaneous, and being as current as possible will send a positive message to your parents and let your students know that you mean business.

Share expectations upfront

Expectations work both ways: You need to communicate your expectations to parents as well as students. At the beginning of a course, students have to be told clearly what they will be studying and your guidelines for grading and performance. But don’t make the mistake of thinking your set of “class rules” is all you need to help students meet your expectations.

Rather, you need to get the parents involved by clearly explaining to them what their children will be learning over the course of the semester or year. If you do this properly, the parents will become your voice at home and play a vital role in helping the children perform as expected.

Don’t forget to care

While much has changed in the parent-teacher dynamic, one thing that will never change is a parent’s expectation that you care for their child. Setting high expectations and creating rigorous courses does not mean you can be unkind or uncaring toward students.

I’ve come across teachers over the years who hid behind the “they don’t like me because my class is difficult” excuse, but in reality they were not liked because they were, well, not likable. You don’t have to be your students’ friend, but you can be a caring and encouraging presence in their lives. Many adults look back with great fondness for teachers who demanded a lot but backed that up with caring and concern.

Practice empathy

Before I had children, I had all the answers for my students’ parents. After I had children, I realized that I had my experience and a lot of trial-and-error, but no clear answers. That’s why it’s so important to be empathetic about the challenges your students’ parents face, and to think of your work with them as a mutual partnership.

Parents often are looking for a sympathetic ear and some kind words as opposed to hard-and-fast solutions. Make it a point to reach out to parents when necessary and reinforce that you’re available to support them and their children. One gift of today’s highly connected world is that you’ll have multiple venues via social media to reach out to the parent community.

Don’t waste parents’ time

From a practical perspective, remember that today’s families face incredible time demands. Two-worker homes, blended families and single parents are all present in our communities, and sometimes keeping a hot meal on the table, supervising homework, and being there for the children at night may be all that a parent can do.

Be careful when assigning lengthy and detailed out-of-school projects and assignments. These are far more logistically challenging for parents than they have ever been. With many families going in many directions, setting time aside for a project will be extremely challenging.

The community: meeting ever-rising expectations

New teachers soon realize that a community defines itself by the quality of its school system. It is the main focus of parents, businesses and local government.

School communities expect more public participation from educatorsRemembering this simple fact is essential to meeting the evolving (and rising) expectations for teachers in today’s rapidly changing world. Communities have always expected a lot from their schools, and that is being magnified by social media, email and the ability to foster a Web presence. Those outside of school are now closer than ever.

For the most part, this has been overwhelmingly positive for schools and teachers, but like anything else there are certain considerations to keep in mind.

Build support

As recently as a decade ago, most teachers worked primarily in their classroom with their students. Today, however, the growth of connective technology and rising public expectations to be involved in the life of the school are placing a lot more eyes upon your work.

The key is to turn this larger attention to your advantage by building a base of support for your work. Sharing your work with the public can foster specific support for your class and build a base for the overall mission of the school. Think of it as becoming your own best advocate.

Invite the community in

As you share your work with students, work on building a structure allowing members of the community to visit your classroom and share their real-world experiences. Before the advent of easy-to-implement video technology, this would require actually bringing the person into the school, but today anyone with a camera and a computer can join your classroom to share their experience and thoughts.

And don’t just limit this to the “easy” candidates such as local politicians and business leaders; instead see if any of your students know good subjects for interviews.

Be transparent in practice

These days the public expects a lot more information from government in general, and schools in particular. An excellent way to foster strong support in the community is to share your expectations, class goals, standards, and assessment techniques with everybody via your school website.

If you lay out the structure of your class in public at the beginning of the year, you can focus more on the subject matter the students will be learning and less on details like the structure of your classes. This shift is important in developing a culture of learning and high expectations in your classroom.

Protect privacy

There can be a downside to transparency if teachers accidentally disclose personal and confidential information about their students. Be sure to review your district’s policies regarding student information and images.

If you’re in a primary setting, have your students’ parents specifically sign off on a permission slip that lets you post their images and likenesses on any social media sites you may use. There’s no doubt that it’s a lot easier today to live a more public life, but don’t assume that everyone sees it the same way.

Foster a legacy

After several years of working in the same school, you’ll develop an alumni group from your classes. Bringing back former students, many who may still have strong connections to the community, to share their continued growth and learning after leaving your classroom is a great way to develop deep and strong connections to the community.

You can do this by bringing graduates back, but an online survey using their email addresses, which people now keep for decades, is another solid way to collect information.

Remember, it’s all about the students

For all the changing expectations we have reviewed in this series, one thing remains the same: You do your students the most good when you keep them — and their growing maturity and ability — front and center in your efforts. So, yes, understand what has evolved in teaching, but always remember that children are the reason for your work.

Read more in Part 1: Managing the expectations of colleagues and administrators.

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Brian P. Gatens is the superintendent of schools for the Emerson Public School District in Emerson, New Jersey. He has been an educator for more than two decades, working at the K-12 level in public and private school settings in urban and suburban districts. In “From the Principal’s Office,” Gatens shares advice, provides insights, and gives guidance on everything from what principals look for when interviewing teaching candidates to how to work with overly protective parents. His front-line assessments supply candid perspectives on school life.

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