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Research has shown that when teachers have high expectations for their pupils, their outcomes are better (Murdock-Perriera & Sedlacek, 2018; Hattie, 2008; Rubie Davis et al, 2014). Therefore, it is important that you hold high expectations for all of your pupils.

ECF strands: 1.1, 1.3, 1.4, 1.a. 1.b. 1.c, 1.f and 7.m

Why do high expectations matter?

Setting clear expectations helps to communicate to your pupils what you expect of them. Through doing this, you can convey the values of your classroom and school, which can help to improve the learning environment and culture. You should spend some time considering what your behavioural and academic expectations are. It might be useful to discuss these with your mentor to ensure they are fitting and align with your school’s behaviour policy. When considering the level of concentration and contributions that you expect from your pupils, it is helpful to consider the concept of ratio. 

The goal is to get to the point where you have both a high participation and high think ratio in your classroom. To do this you must demonstrate high expectations of all your pupils, expecting everyone to concentrate and participate in your lesson. This will maximise learning and progress for all pupils, helping them to achieve, feel success and therefore feel motivated to continue participating. Holding and rigorously maintaining high expectations is important but knowing how to implement them in the classroom and demonstrate them to your pupils can be challenging.

Having high expectations for all pupils will increase their capacity to engage and display greater levels of academic buoyancy. Conversely, if you expect that pupils will underachieve, this can result in your own unconscious behaviour reinforcing feelings of failure. If you assume a pupil will achieve, there is a tendency to treat that pupil differently than one who is expected to underachieve, which in turn can influence academic outcomes thus creating a self fulfilling prophecy. 

What do high expectations look like in the classroom?

It is important that you communicate your belief in the academic potential of all your pupils. To do this, you should set and maintain clear behavioural expectations for concentration and contributions during a lesson.

One way to do this is by setting the expectation that all pupils should be prepared to contribute during a lesson if asked to do so. This encourages pupils to take responsibility for learning and emphasises the importance of trying, even if a pupil is unsure of their response. It is quite common in this scenario for a pupil not to answer or to say, “I don’t know”.    

If a pupil doesn’t respond or says, “I don’t know”, there are several ways you can support them to answer the question, such as providing a hint or prompt to support them to contribute, asking another pupil to give a hint to help them to respond or asking another pupil to answer, and then going back to the original pupil to repeat or add to their response. This helps to build a culture of engagement and inclusion. It also clearly conveys to your pupils that you expect them to remain focused during your lesson so they can be successful in their learning.

It’s important that pupils in your class recognise that learning time is valuable and that you expect them to work purposefully throughout the lesson or day. One way to support you to communicate this to your pupils and help them to stay engaged in activities is to share the duration of time that pupils have to complete certain activities. This supports the pupils to remain focused on learning and can create a sense of achievement when pupils complete a task in that time. It also supports pupils in the management of their their learning time​. Tell the pupils how long they have and what they should achieve in the time. Visibly share the timer and refer to it with checkpoints along the way.

Another way to support pupils to stay focused and engaged during lessons is to make the start and end of activities clear. This can help to keep the pace of the lesson and therefore keep pupils alert and focused. Make sure that all pupils know when to start the task by using a clear cue. Everyone starting tasks at the same time means that it keeps pupils focused and the environment purposeful as pupils don’t drift into starting activities or have a quick chat before they begin. Equally, ensuring that all pupils know when the activity has ended and what they should do next means that pupils are not finishing at different times and have a chance to start to be off task. Making it clear when the time is up and what to do to show that they are ready is key to you being able to get the pupils’ attention and move on with the lesson. Finally, positively reinforcing your expectations helps to ensure all pupils start and finish the task as and when you directed.

Commending students for the processes they use – engagement, perseverance, strategies, improvement – fosters motivation, increased effort, willingness to take on new challenges, greater self-confidence, and a higher level of success. Carol Dweck wrote that“process praise keeps students focused...on processes they can all engage in to learn,”. By having high expectations over the effort that a student puts into their work, in time the process will see higher academic attainment. Use Rogers' idea of unconditional positive regard to challenge pupils showing them that we see them as valuable and capable at all times. When a pupil falls short of expectations, try to separate their actions out from their identity e.g. 

  • “I expect more of you than this. You can do better tomorrow.”

  • “I know you to be a well-behaved student. I expect you to stick to the good behavior I know you’re capable of.”

The idea here is that you are showing pupils that they are highly capable, good and valuable people and therefore you expect them to live up to the standards you know they’re capable of.


Read this post by Doug Lemov on his teaching strategy - ratio

Watch the video below:


  • Do you have high behavioural and academic expectations for all your pupils or do your behavioural and academic expectations differ for different pupils?

  • Why do you think this is and what impact might this be having on your pupils’ progress and outcomes?

  • How do you ensure all pupils are engaged and contribute during your lessons?

  • If a pupil doesn’t know an answer, how could you support them to successfully contribute and what impact might this have on the engagement of your class?

  • How can you maintain a positive learning environment and ensure pupils still feel safe to make mistakes when they don’t know an answer?

  • How do you ensure pupils work purposefully on activities?

  • Does this promote high expectations and support pupil engagement?

  • How could you improve this?

  • How do you address a concern of a pupil consistently underachieving?

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