Escape Unrealistic Teaching Expectations to Be More Effective

Special / Top Feature July 19 / July 21, 2019

 – Terra Graves –

Are expectations good or bad? It depends on who is putting those expectations on us. As educators, we are weighed down by expectations. Expectations are placed on us by students, our colleagues, our administrators, parents, the Department of Education, the community, and last but not least, ourselves. The expectations we place on ourselves come in the form of goals, while the expectations others place on us feel more like demands. Sometimes these expectations can be so overwhelming that teachers leave the profession. Expectations set us up for success or failure, praise or disappointment.  

Having recently graduated from yoga teacher training, part of the practice is accepting what is and not what should be. When we have expectations for what we think various aspects of our lives should be, all we do is set ourselves up to be disappointed. Life is what happens while we’re busy making other plans. Can this apply to our lives as educators? We are told to have high expectations for our students because it motivates them and lets them know we believe in their ability to achieve. But what if they don’t? How do they feel, then? On that same note, what if WE don’t meet the expectations placed upon us?  

Soaring Expectations

As Flipped Learning (FL) practitioners, we have placed high expectations on ourselves to provide a better learning experience for our students. This expectation has merit. It is undoubtedly much easier to be a traditional teacher; less planning, less thinking, less creativity, less emotional investment, less everything. I would venture a guess that if you’re reading this article, you even set high expectations for your FL practice. Am I right? So what does that mean? You’ve probably tried and failed and tried again, experienced success, and continued to learn and experiment. You may have even joined the FLGI Community, read the member blogs, and earned certifications through the Flipped Learning Global Initiative. If not, I expect you to. 😉 

But seriously, give yourself a break. The fact that you are flipping means that you care about your students, and you put their learning above your convenience.  

Dan Jones’ article this month examines the pressures teachers feel from seeing amazing classroom ideas on social media and the severe affliction of “Pinterest stress.” What I find interesting is that a new category of posts have become mainstream: “Pinterest fails.” This is when someone has attempted a recipe, a craft, or decorating scheme from something they found on Pinterest, and their version turns out far below the expected quality. Both the original post and the fail are posted side-by-side. I admire this. The effort someone takes to try something new, fail at it, and then post that failure shows that this person has a sense of humor and understands that failure is not a dirty word. These two qualities will serve you well as an FL practitioner.  

The reality is, expectations are not going to go away. So we need to find ways to cope with or minimize the stress they bring about and leverage their benefits. 

Expectations We Have for Ourselves

Here are some considerations when setting expectations (goals) for ourselves.

  1. Is this a realistic expectation? Do I have the time, resources and energy to meet the expectation? Sometimes we take on more than we can handle, but then beat ourselves up when we can’t complete the task to perfection, if at all. It’s ok to change your mind and modify the expectation so that it is reasonable.  
  2. What is the success criteria? Are there varying degrees of success, or is it pass/fail? We tend to have a vision for what “done” or “good job” looks like. If you’re an overachiever such as myself, this will most likely look very different from the average person’s completed work. Think about those flipped videos…how hard is it for you to leave in the mispronounced words, etc? How many times do you re-record until it is “perfect”? Forget about that! How many redos did you give yourself when standing in front of the classroom?! Good enough is good enough! It’s ok to be human. Revisit your success criteria, and if the work you do meets it, you’re golden.  
  3. Who is impacted by your success/failure to meet these expectations? If it’s just you, take a breath and just do your best. Self-acceptance is a necessity. If many people are impacted, make sure to get feedback throughout the process so that you have a chance to do better.

Expectations Others Have for Us

When you’ve got to meet the expectations of others, it’s just as important to take the time for some considerations and communicate.  Similar to dealing with our own expectations, we need to consider:

  1. Clarify what success looks like for each stakeholder.  Parents have different expectations than students. Students have different expectations than administrators. Administrators have different expectations than the community… and so on. 
  2. Ask for feedback throughout the process. (Detecting a pattern here?) Feedback is essential. We all need to know if we are on the right track or way off base. In many ways, I think our stakeholders appreciate being a part of the process. I believe they are more forgiving when you miss the mark.  
  3. Who is impacted? See #3 above.  😉

Additional Considerations 

  1. Who is this person, and why do they have expectations of us in the first place?
  2. Are we trying to make them happy as an end unto itself, or are there greater benefits of realizing the expectations?
  3. What is the consequence of falling short? Lose the respect of someone tangentially involved in our lives or lose our job?

I return to my initial question here, “Are expectations good or bad?” I think being able to tell the difference from the get-go is how to avoid the stress that expectations can cause. I hope that my advice will help you along the way. Of course, I can’t close this piece without placing my own expectations upon you: take my advice the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed by expectations.  

Success criteria: A feeling of zen.


Terra Graves
Terra Graves
Terra has been an educator for over twenty years. She is the Project Coordinator/Administrator for the 21st Century Learning Department in Washoe County School District, NV. Prior to this position, she taught elementary and middle school, supported novice teachers as a full-time mentor, served as an Ed Tech Specialist, and a Program Specialist in the 21st Century Learning Department. Terra is Flipped Learning 3.0 Level-II Certified and a founding member of the FLGI International Faculty.

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