High Expectations: A Planned Behavior

Five years ago my oldest son, Christian, was entering the 6th grade. It was a new school, in a new town. He had been having difficulties at the previous school such as bulling and lower grades. I requested that the bully be moved from the class my son was placed into with the kid that was known for bulling him. The school decided that since Christian had a stable living situation at home that it was better if he moved classrooms. Needless to say this was not okay with me and the bulling continued throughout the entire school year without the school intervening. We decided enough was enough. We moved back to my hometown.

Christian’s new teacher had a very different teaching style. She sets direct expectations of all the kids regardless of background, personality, or how smart or dumb the children think they are. They talk about strengths and weaknesses as well as what they want to accomplish in this school year.

The teacher did what I had seen no other teacher implement before, the theory of planned behavior. This theory is an account of behavior. “That predicts a person’s intention to behave in a particular manor.” (Schneider, 2012) She expects each student to behave in a certain manor and has high expectations set for not only their schoolwork but their behavior and achievements as well.

This makes the students perfectly aware of what others, the teacher, expects of them and how they should be motivated to fulfill with the expectations. (Schneider, 2012) When students understand what is expected of them and they are encouraged and rewarded for great achievement they then start to have faith and confidence in themselves.

This is exactly what happened with my son. Because of the bullying he had been dealing with the previous school year he had low self-esteem and didn’t believe that he could do the things she was talking about. However, with her motivation, high expectations and great leadership he flourished in and out of the classroom. He started doing better then ever in Math and fell in love with history. Her excitement for teaching and her encouragement in the classroom is like nothing I had encountered from a teacher before.

If teachers can set expectations and work with the children her classroom to get them to understand that they all have the capabilities to be great students then maybe far less children will get behind in the classroom. All too often teachers have already made up their minds about their students even before they step foot in the classroom. If the theory of planned behavior was implemented from the beginning of the year maybe this could lead to more students being motivated to please not only the teacher but themselves. In Christian’s case this made all the difference. He finally believed that he was capable of the things that were expected of him. Six years later he is graduating high school all because one teacher had high expectation (and encouragement from his parents).



Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., and Coutts, L. M. (Eds.) (2012). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.


  1. Erica Michele Skinner

    It sounds like you found the perfect situation to repair the damage from the appalling neglect your son experienced at his former school. Teacher’s sometimes become overwhelmed by the ever growing numbers in their classrooms, but there is no excuse for the school’s administration not to have addressed your concerns and to have facilitated a more conducive learning environment for your son.

    Sadly, many teachers, especially in low socioeconomic neighborhoods, engage in that wicked self-fulfilling prophecy for many of their students. My mother happens to work in a rough neighborhood in Los Angeles County, and has relayed many stories over the years of fellow educators giving up on students who are drawn to gang activity, or who they consider to be a “lost cause”. They decide very early on that the battle with particular students simply isn’t worth the fight, and redirect their attention to the students who want to succeed. This is just one very extreme example, but you can see that it is very easy for some teachers to lose faith in their own students. The school administrators should be managing these situations, but they’re not always as black and white as they seem.

    The theory of planned behavior seems to be a great platform on which to set expectations for the year. It sounds like the teacher your son transferred was setting her students up for success, rather than failure. Most educators have the freedom to organize their classrooms in whatever format they deem appropriate, within reason. Unfortunately there are still teachers out there who just don’t have the right mindset for motivating their students. However, implementing an intervention like this on a standardized level at the start of each school year may provide the motivation for students to pursue success throughout the year.

  2. Kristina Cafney Paradise

    My son was being bullied as well in the 3rd grade. His grades and behavior plummeted immensely after the school would not listen to either of us. He kind of had the “I don’t care anymore” attitude. We moved to another state, which we planned to do anyway but because of the situation with our son, decided it was best to do it sooner. When he started his new school, the teacher made him fill out a form about what he expected to do this year and his expected grades. His expectations were very low; writing only “I want to learn stuff and I expect to pass my grades.” The teacher worked with him to make new friends through group activities and did a lot of self-motivating activities. By the end of 3rd grade in his new school, he actually enjoyed school and didn’t want to go on summer break. I feel that giving kids a self-worth and an academic self-concept allows them to do better in school, socially and academically.

  3. Lauren Nicole Munzenmaier

    When my sister was a kid, she had a similar experience to your son with her teacher in 3rd grade. Her teacher expected all students within her classroom to be high achievers and treated them as such without discriminating against them (e.g. based on their personalities or intelligence). Although some of her students perceived her as a tough, mean teacher who provided them with a lot of hard work, my sister knew that her teacher held high expectations in order to motivate other students to do well and feel confident in completing tasks and homework. As a result, most of her classmates made it through the class and possessed increased confidence in their ability to study and finish work effectively.

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