You get what you expect in this world. That is a mantra that I live by, both with raising my children and overseeing students in my school. Having high expectations is paramount to student achievement, good behavior, teacher professionalism, and parent engagement.
When I was the principal of a rural high school high in the mountains of Colorado I took a radical measure based upon my high expectations for all students. I raised the eligibility policy standards to proclaim that students could not participate in any extracurricular activities with any grades less than a C. D did not stand for dance in my building. Students had to have Cs or better in all classes to play sports, go to a dance, or participate in the school play. Was this popular at first? With the teachers, yes! With the students, not so much.
Now granted we had safety nets in place to ensure that we were giving students a lot of support to make this happen. We had tutoring three days a week. Grades were checked by advisors on Mondays with eligibility running on Friday. This way students had all week to retake tests and get items turned in. We set the wheels in motion and did the culture ever change!
Tutoring was packed every day. Classwork and assessments took on a whole new meaning. Students retook tests after spending time with the tutors and all of a sudden the grades began to improve across the building. Students were excited with their success and often would run into my office to show me their grades. We had turned the culture into one that displayed pride in academics instead of apathy.
Did I get any push back from administration or the parents? You bet! “You’re setting them up for failure,” my superintendent said. I rather felt I was setting them up for success. What college allows Ds and Fs? What job allows D and F work, let alone C quality output? I held my ground and my repeated retort was,”Mr. So and So, do you really think your child is not capable of making Cs in his classes? I do! I think your child is bright and perfectly capable of making these grades.” What parent is going to say no? We had some stressful moments when prom rolled around as girls purchased dresses somewhat prematurely. In the end the students did what it took to step up and make the grades. And I am not sure of what they were more proud of: their pretty dresses or those shining grades!
Achievement went up. We won a state award for growth two years in a row. We made AYP for the first time in history! ACT scores improved and the graduation rate rose as well. You get what you expect and I expected a lot. I am not sure who gained the most, me or the students. I suspect it was a win/win situation for us all.