Why high expectations can mean lower workload

Shooting for the stars doesn’t just benefit students, writes Adam Riches – it can have a big effect on workload, too

Adam Riches

Teacher workload: Setting high expectations for your students should cut your workload, says Adam Riches

Having high expectations in the classroom can seriously reduce your workload.

We tend to associate reducing workload with approaches that cut down your working time outside of class (like live marking and planning outside of the box) but what you get the students to do in the room (and how you get them to do it) can also hugely reduce the burden in and out of lessons.

Expectations are often associated with behaviour, and of course, having high behavioural expectations is an important part of teaching.

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But making sure that you spend time setting and reinforcing your academic expectations, you can considerably increase engagement, help students to progress more effectively and make yourself more time- (and stress-) efficient. 

Teacher workload: Make expectations explicit 

The first port of call is to remind students of your expectations. Waiting until they fall short of your expectations is a surefire way to increase your stress, waste your time and potentially detract from learning.

Telling students how they should be working takes you a second and it draws your line in the sand. It also requires no extra planning or preparation.

Be sure to give instructions on:

  • How students should be working.

  • What the outcome should be.

  • How they can use what they have been taught in the lesson.

  • What the work will contribute to.

By explicitly stating expectations, you can essentially scaffold the task through instruction. In addition, your time circulating the class is much more productive.

Be realistic

Getting the message about expectations from sender to receiver is one thing, but to reduce your workload, you need to ensure that the students take it seriously. To ensure this is the case, set expectations that are manageable in terms of time, challenge and complexity.

Too much expectation leads to disengagement and too vague or too few expectations lead to students underworking (as they feel they have met your requirements). If you pitch your parameters right, classes will be sufficiently challenged and clear enough on the task to complete it effectively. 

Enforce expectations

Monitoring expectations and knowing when to use behavioural interventions is really important. If you have set expectations and they are not being met, you need to follow up and remind students of what you need them to be doing.

The advantage of having high expectations is that you have made explicit what you want from the students you are teaching. This gives you a fair basis to then deal with any students who choose not to engage. 

Don’t make it into a drill parade

Setting expectations doesn’t need to be about reading out a list of rules before every task. Simply reminding students or using approaches that highlight the assumed expectation for a task (such as “tell me”) are quick ways to instil the message. 

Once base expectations are set, students become very habitual – dual coding is a great way to remind students of expectations once you have set a good basis. Again, it costs you no time and simply increases output.

Getting the most from students in the classroom and reducing conflict and stress are good ways to reduce workload. Get your expectations right and ensure  that the students follow them and you’ll save yourself hours of time a week. 

Adam Riches is a senior leader for teaching and learning, specialist leader in education and head of English. He tweets @TeachMrRiches

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