Our Perspectives

The Centre for Educational Leadership Perspectives are opinion pieces that highlight current and topical educational leadership matters. Our professional experts write candidly about their views and offer a fresh perspective on today’s educational leadership challenges. Occasionally, other faculty members contribute.

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Perspectives, Term 1, 2017

Posted on
Tuesday, February 14, 2017 - 09:46

Here we go again – it is back to the madness of a million things going on.  It is hard to be a focused leader when there is so much to cope with.   So keep one thing in the forefront - The ultimate test of your leadership is the quality of your students’ outcomes.  If your results last year were not as good as you would have hoped for, or you really feel you ‘could do better’, this short article from Professor Christine Rubie-Davies may help you reflect on what you have to change if you want a different or better result. See our courses at the end of the article for practical and timely help with improving your in-school and across-school results.
~ Linda

Growing the Expectations of Teachers for Learners 
by Christine Rubie-Davies

Researchers have been investigating teacher expectations for five decades. This is because teacher expectations have been found to influence student outcomes – both academic and social-psychological. Teacher expectations can have profound effects on students. Teacher expectations are the beliefs that teachers hold about the potential of students to achieve at higher or lower levels in the future. When teachers believe that students will be very successful in their schooling or are not likely to do so well, they interact with the students in ways that communicate those messages. Self-belief is powerful and when students understand that their teachers have high or low expectations for them, they are likely to assimilate the teacher messages. In turn, the teacher expectations then influence student self-belief and motivation. When students put in less effort, they are likely to learn less than other students who believe they can achieve at high levels.

Perhaps more importantly, however, is the ways in which expectations are communicated to students via the opportunities to learn that teachers provide to students. When teachers have high expectations for students, they are likely to provide the students with learning experiences that challenge them. The types of activities that are completed by students for whom teachers have high expectations are often exciting and cognitively demanding; teachers expect the best from those students and support them to achieve. On the other hand, the learning experiences of low expectation students are very different. They are often mundane and uninteresting; they focus on the development of basic skills through repetition. When students struggle, teachers expectations are low anyway so they are less likely to support the students to achieve; they will accept low-level work. As soon as learning opportunities are differentiated, a natural result is that students learn different things. Of course, students are also acutely aware that only some students complete high level, challenging, fun tasks. Differentiation is one of the primary means by which ability is made salient in classrooms, and students soon learn where they sit in the hierarchy.

In my own research, I have focused on teachers who have high expectations for all their students versus teachers who have low. One key difference between these types of teachers is that high expectation teachers do not differentiate the learning opportunities for students in the traditional ways. In New Zealand, we have the highest ability grouping rate of any OECD country – and we have the highest disparity between our highest and lowest achievers. In contrast, Finland, with whom we are often compared, uses only mixed ability grouping throughout schooling – and they have one of the smallest disparities between their highest and lowest achievers. I realise that this is not the only contributor to Finland’s success but it is certainly a factor.

My earlier research led to my identifying three key ways in which high expectation teachers differed from lows: grouping and learning experiences, class climate, and goal setting. I will outline below the specifics of how high expectation teachers work with students in these key areas.

High expectation teachers use what I have called flexible grouping for core curriculum areas like reading and mathematics. What I mean by that is that they frequently change the student groups and they frequently change how students in the class work together. At times they may engage their class in whole class activities, at others students might work together on tasks where they have similar interests, at times the teacher will pull groups of students out to focus on particular skills, and so on. The point is that all students are exposed to high level learning opportunities, they have teachers who strongly believe that they can achieve, and they have the necessary supports in place.

These principles of not ability grouping work equally well in secondary schools where we have traditionally had streaming. A poignant example of this is the recent work of Professor Rhona Weinstein (who is giving a public lecture at the Faculty of Education and Social Work on 7 March, from 5.00-7.00pm). With help from the Gates Foundation, she created a partnership between UC Berkeley and a charter district to set up a high school for first-in-family to go to university. The students who come into the school, CAL Prep, are disadvantaged students; they are not cherry picked. Many come into CAL Prep up to four years below their level. They all leave achieving at the highest levels. This secondary school is founded on high expectation principles – and the first and foremost of these is that there can be no form of ability grouping.

The second principle which relates closely to the first is that high expectation teachers create a very warm classroom climate for their students. They take the time to form strong supportive relationships with their students and they know each of them personally, but even more than that, they create a classroom community. Students change their seating arrangements regularly so that, over time, they work with everyone else in the class. It is expected that students will work together and support each other. It is expected that the teacher and the students will care about each other. These classrooms are happy, supportive, positive environments.

The third principle is goal setting. Because students in high expectation classrooms are making such rapid gains in their learning, it is important that they regularly set learning goals. High expectation teachers monitor their students’ learning closely and frequently give their students feedback. In turn, because all students are completing high level learning activities, where they often have choice about the tasks they will do, the students are engaged and motivated.

When I conducted an experimental study where teachers were randomly assigned to either learn the high expectation practices or not, students with teachers who received the intervention made learning gains the equivalent of 28% additional learning above what students in the other classes achieved. That is over one terms’ extra gains in one year. When high expectation principles are put into place in classrooms, all students can achieve; they just need teachers to believe in them and the necessary supports and structures put in place.

~ Prof Christine Rubie-Davies

Following Christine’s groundbreaking research, we are delighted to announce that UACEL has developed a new resource to support school leaders as they explore high expectation teaching and its implications for their own school.  Our new ‘Leaders Influencing Teachers’ High Expectations’ (LITHE™) seminar series is a practical and supportive resource designed for school leaders as they establish high expectation practices in their own school.

We look forward to offering this significant leadership PLD opportunity to your school in Term 2 and 3 of 2017. Contact our specialist LITHE™ development team or click here for more information.         

We are also finalising enrolments for our Growing Great Leaders™ and Open to Learning™ seminar series. If your team would like to learn more about LITHE™, contact our specialist leadership development team today.


Click here to Register


Growing Great Leaders™

Growing Great Leaders™ offers research-based professional learning focussed on how to gain measurable improvement with your day-to-day acts of leadership.  GGL™ level 1 is an introduction to effective behaviours.  GGL™ level 2 focuses on implementing school inquiry and improvement.  UACEL offers GGL™ level 1 and 2 courses in Auckland and Christchurch starting March 2017 and level 1 in Hamilton.  If you are interested in these courses in your area please contact our specialist leadership development team.                                                     

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Open-to-learning™ Leadership

Open-to-learning™ Leadership focuses on improving your effectiveness and confidence when holding conversations that address work-based challenges whilst still improving relationships. This course is a highly practical and research-based professional development opportunity with direct relevance to participants’ own leadership and their school context.  OTL™ leadership is a critical skill for CoL leaders.                    

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UACEL is delighted to announce that the development of our new ‘Leaders Influencing Teachers' High Expectations’ seminar series is almost complete. LITHE™ is based on the ground breaking research of Professor Christine Rubie-Davies. The programme is designed to support school leaders and teachers as they investigate the implications of this research on student achievement and establish a high expectation approach in their own school.

We look forward to offering this significant leadership PLD opportunity to your school in Term 2 and 3 of 2017. Funding may be available through the Ministry of Education's PLD programme. .                                        

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Leadership Mentoring

UACEL offers tailored leadership mentoring designed to meet the needs of individual schools. Mentoring is provided by our skilled team of Ministry accredited facilitators, all of whom have proven records in school leadership. Funding may be available through the Ministry of Education's PLD programme.  Contact us to find out more.