The term ‘expectations’ is deeply embedded in different aspects of school functioning. Be it public or private sector education, all stakeholders have high expectations of each other. School management expects parents to be partners in the journey of their child’s learning, while the latter expects the school to provide quality education, the definition of which may vary.
While some have progressive expectations well-aligned to our National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, many others (often quite justifiably) may have a rather simplistic marks-based measure of defining expectations.
Teachers also like to have high expectations from learners in terms of performance, attainment of learning outcomes, neatness, quality of task submission, model behaviour, and so on.
Similarly, school governance bodies have high expectations of teachers. After all, no school can hope to be better than its teachers!
Identifying the fundamental problem of the system
Let’s take a moment to reflect if the above points shape a culture of real learning, a culture of thinking, dispositions of creativity, and critical exploration while nurturing growth mindsets. There is a lot of evidence around us that clearly shows a sense of defensiveness among all stakeholders resulting in defensive teaching, defensive micro-management of teacher education, defensive and therefore often rebellious students whose individuality is often reduced to a collection of percentages.
Their creativity and innate sense of wonder were killed. I am reminded of Sir Ken Robinson’s popular Ted Talk ‘Do schools kill creativity?’ Well, are we under a load of all the expectations?
Essentially, our current system has a fundamental problem. It is optimised to sustain itself and learners are incentivized to not question, not think, barely express, and simply follow, as that leads to accepted achievement. This in turn just creates a negative feedback loop.
Shifting to ‘for learners’ instead of ‘of learners’
Do all learners, including the Head of School, the middle management, teachers, students, and parents have the independence to think, innovate, express, question, reflect, and evaluate?
Are they empowered rather than dependent on factors other than those focused on learning?
The pandemic caused a major disruption that led to a sudden flurry of innovative thinking and ideas implemented by the same set of people. What changed were ‘expectations.’ They were now expected to be creative problem-solvers and we know numerous commendable stories.
Expectations for learners urgently need to be about providing a culture that nurtures transformative competencies, as defined by OECD, reflecting not just student agency, voice, and choice, but also student co-agency with peers, teachers, parents, and communities.
Knowledge, skills, and understanding must today be complemented by students taking responsibility for their actions with compassionate ways of resolving conflict and creating value. For the sheer survival of the planet, we now most certainly need to raise a radically compassionate generation.
Giving formative years a focused direction
A human child is born with a growth mindset and the ability to use each mistake well for learning. The countless falls embraced gracefully by a toddler in the process of learning to walk are unquestionable evidence. They learn to walk for the sheer joy of learning it. They learn at their own pace and time. Any external validations/rewards and punishments are inhibiting at best!
What works is the ‘free space’ to enjoy structured and unstructured play, to explore, question and make connections. As caregivers, we can facilitate the stimuli to give this early learning a focused direction. Maria Montessori’s learning environments are a time-tested example.
Thus, in schools expectations for learners can be about challenging misconceptions, visualising thinking, setting SMART goals, and each learner taking ownership of their learning in an environment that allows for mistakes and rewards reflection, innovation, experiments, unlearning and relearning.
Possible to embed shared visions for everyone
If the Head of School’s expectations of educators transform into ‘for educators’, this process of visible change begins. Classrooms transform into laboratories of learning, thinking, experimenting, and drawing hypotheses – a free space where learners collaborate, value different perspectives and respect each other’s thinking.
Teachers and peer-teachers co-evaluate the effectiveness of certain strategies and see teaching as fostering effective engagement with ideas rather than completing a syllabus. In this dynamic environment, the school curriculum moves away from a static, linear, standardised model to suit the needs of each learner.
Within the larger system, as schools, let’s raise and transform our expectations ‘for all learners in the system and see the magic unravel. Many fellow educators, who have tried this, know that it is indeed time-effective too! It is possible and many schools in our country, ranging from budget schools to public and high-profile private schools are already implementing these ideas effectively.
All it takes is the crucial first step and then embedding the culture with a shared vision, shared language, shared theory, and action.
(The author is Dr. Amrita Vohra, Director of Education, GEMS Education, India)