The Power of Expectations
Monday, 01 September 2014
What are you expecting this year? This is the key question I asked our pupils this morning. I suggested to them that there is evidence to suggest that, whatever one is expecting, one is likely to be right. Those who expect good things tend to put unexpected failures down to bad luck, and see successes as reflective of their ability, and those who expect less good things tend to put their successes down to luck, and see less successful results as being reflective of their ability.
It’s tremendously important at the start of the school year that pupils have high expectations - to understand what they are being taught in Maths, to do well in English, expect to be able to play the pieces their instrumental teacher gives them, to beat the opposition at rugby or hockey, to be able to learn their lines for the school play, expect to better their opponents at the Model United Nations, and so on.
The power of expectations was clear in the last football season. For decades teams had gone to Manchester United’s ground expecting to be beaten, and hoping for a draw. With a new manager, and a new set of circumstances, at Old Trafford, teams turned up not expecting to be beaten, and playing to win. As a result, many did win, and more managed to draw. So the difference between Manchester United and the rest of their league was reduced by a reassessment of expectations.
Similarly dancers, and sportsmen and women give a lot of time to visualising themselves being successful so that it becomes their natural expectation. Because doing so makes them more likely to achieve their goals.
However, and I think it is a big however… a great deal, it seems to me, of a healthy and wholesome approach to life is to be able to hold two different, sometimes contradictory, concepts in balance. Some readers may be thinking that if all one does is expect success and good things that might make one complacent. We all know people who expected to be able to play a piece of music in a concert, or pass a vocab test, or their Driving Theory test, or beat the opposition, and failed because they were overconfident.
And so, as well as expecting to be do well this year, I encouraged our pupils constantly to reinforce a ‘growth mindset’ - that hard work will enable them to do what they want to do. I exhorted them to expect great things, and work their socks off for them. To be optimistic, but not complacent or arrogant.
'The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it’. So said Michelangelo. Aspiration, high expectation, huge hard work to achieve it. To any pupil readers of this: I encourage you to set lofty targets, and make this a year where you strain every sinew to achieve them, whatever they are, and where possible encourage others to achieve their ambitions too.