Robert J. Marzano
Art & Science of Teaching
High Expectations for All
The idea of communicating high expecta- tions for all students burst onto the K– 12 education scene in the late 1960s. An
important study indicated that teachers form
expectations about their students’ chances for
academic success and then interact with stu-
dents on the basis of those expectations.
1 That is,
teachers treat their “high-expectancy” students
differently from their “low-expectancy” students.
Students quickly recognize this differential
treatment and begin to act in
accordance with the expectations
that the treatment implies.
Having high expectations for
all students is, of course, a good
and noble goal. Two problems
arise here, however. First, expec-
tations are subtle and difficult to
change. Teachers may be unaware
that they have low expectations
for some students; even when
they become aware, they may
have difficulty changing their
expectations because their beliefs
and biases have developed over
the years. Second, what actually communicates
expectations to students is teacher behavior. If
teachers consciously work to change their biases
but don’t change their behavior toward those
students from whom they have tended to expect
less, their change of attitude will have little effect
on student achievement.
A Four-Step Process
In working with teachers on this issue, we have
found it helpful to think of communicating high
expectations as an instructional strategy that
involves four steps.
Step 1: Identify students for whom you have
Do this as early in the school year or the course
as possible, because once you form expectations,
it’s hard to change them. Teachers might simply
scan their class rosters and mentally place stu-
dents into two categories—“I expect them to do
well” and “I don’t expect them to do well.” This
is not an easy task because it requires teachers to
admit that they have formed negative expectations about some students.
Step 2: Identify similarities in students.
This is the most difficult part of the strategy
because none of us likes to acknowledge that we
automatically form conclusions about certain
types of people. For example, a teacher might
find that the students for whom she has low
expectations all tend to look a certain way, speak
expectations to students
is teacher behavior.
a certain way, or come from a certain ethnic
group. Research has demonstrated that such
characteristics are commonly the basis for early
expectations about students.
If teachers do find patterns in their expectations, it does not necessarily mean that they are
racists or bigots. To some extent, all adults have
preconceived notions regarding different groups
of people, simply because they are influenced by
the biases of the people who raised them and the
people with whom they interacted as children
and by their personal experiences growing up.
A bigot or a racist knowingly or unknowingly
behaves in accordance with such notions.
However, an individual who actively seeks to
behave in a manner that is not controlled by
biased patterns of thoughts or behaviors is
anything but a bigot.
Step 3: Identify differential treatment
of low-expectancy students.
In practice, teachers’ behaviors toward students
are much more important than their expecta-