Sunday, November 9, 2008

High Expectations

I've now watched Obama's acceptance speech several times. The second time through, when I was no longer too dazed to take it all in, I was struck by the history he told, in the context of the life of 106-year-old Ann Nixon Cooper. He talked about many historical events of the past 100 years, both positive and negative, but they were all put in the context of change, and hope, and how the world has been made a better place by common people. There was no mention of September 11th in his history of the past 100 years. Instead of motivating people through fear, like the last administration, he uses hope. He is able, by speaking positively, to inspire people to be better, to want to work for their country, to feel united. He holds up a high standard, and lets us know he believes we can rise up to that standard. As my mom said tonight, we now have a leader who will help us be our best selves, rather than our worst selves.

This is how good teachers motivate their students to be better people. It is what we are taught time and time again. No matter how hard it is to like a particular student, or to expect good things of him, we say, "I know you can do this. I know you can be a leader for your classmates. I know you can solve this math problem. I know you can use your words to tell someone how angry you are without hitting them." We hold up examples for them, examples that demonstrate our high standards and our belief that they can rise up to meet them, whether we use Dr. King or another second grader as an example. And, many times, they do live up to these expectations, because when you expect good things of someone, that's what you get.

Teachers can motivate their students through threats and fear, like Bush and his cronies, or through hope and high expectations, like Obama. I have seen the latter approach work over and over again in my classroom. Here's hoping it works in the larger world as well.


  1. Amen! Here's to hope and expectations.

  2. I think he also said, "We are the change we have been waiting for." Leadership can help us be the change -- or not. We have seen the "not" approach. We all feel smaller, fearful, embarrassed, and demeaned by that approach. We can be the change, and we can be proud once more.