What the Best Teachers Expect Of Their Students Matters

Bain and his colleagues (2004, pg. 71) asked a series of interesting questions about expectations:

Why do some teachers expect more and get students to produce it with great satisfaction while others fail miserably with what they regard as “higher” standards? Is there something distinctive in the nature of the “more” that our subjects expect? Do the highly successful teachers handle the assignments differently, or possess some other quality that accounts for the results they achieve?

The researchers found that the best college teachers – those who consistently elicit high-quality work from students – possess a series of attitudes and tendencies that inform their approach to teaching. These highly effective instructors are convinced that every student has a perspective or valuable insight to contribute to the class, and they create opportunities for students to develop and express those perspectives and insights. The best college teachers have faith in each student’s abilities and they express that faith to each student individually. They are committed to the idea that every student can and will learn not only intellectual skills as a result of their course, but will also develop and strengthen positive personal and social skills. Because of this belief, these college instructors create learning environments where students are challenged and encouraged to stretch and grow their intellectual, personal, and social skills. The best teachers never lose site of outcomes – course outcomes, assignment outcomes, outcomes for a class session – and they design every learning experience around the outcomes.

Finally, the best college teachers understand that external factors make a planting a treedifference in student learning. Some external factors are obvious; if a student is hungry or weary or feels threatened, their capacity to perform up to the instructor’s expectations (and their own abilities) is weakened. Other external factors are less obvious but no less effective. A student who feels he or she is viewed as a negative stereotype may be distracted or, worse, face a level of anxiety that can harm his or her performance. The best college teachers understand these important external factors and communicate “positive expectations to students that are genuine, challenging yet realistic, and that take their work seriously” (Bain, 2004, pg. 72)


Bain, K. (2004). What the best college teachers do. (1st ed.). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

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