Expect the Exceptional: Six Ways Educators Can Get the Year Off To a Good Start

By Susan Sportsman, PhD, RN, ANEF, FAAN

I have always loved fall, mostly because it signals time to return to school.  I was one of those kids who loved school—no wonder I spent many years of my career either in graduate school and/or as a nurse educator!  Each year, as fall approaches, I think about what I can do to maintain my “fall excitement” throughout the year.   A mantra that helps me maintain my enthusiasm as a nurse educator is to “Expect that the new term will be exceptional.”  Educational research demonstrates that when teachers expected their students to succeed, the students did just that.  In a number of studies, high expectations by faculty resulted in better performance by the students, not only in the eyes of their teachers, but also better scores on standardized tests (https://www.ecs.org/clearinghouse/01/05/51/10551.pdf).

Whether you’re a nurse educator, an allied health educator, or really any type of educator, we all remember situations when students disappointed us.  While we can’t control the students’ (or our colleagues’) actions, here are six things that we can do to maintain high expectations of our students throughout their educational process.

  1. Describe your expectations clearly—and often. Be straight-forward and specific about test dates, when assignments are due, and how work will be evaluated. Likewise, have clearly defined policies on late homework, missed tests, and absences. To the extent possible, put these expectations in writing, and remind students frequently so it’s always top-of-mind.
  2. Proactively and regularly tell students that they can do the work. Often students lack confidence in their ability to succeed in a demanding academic program, even if they’re well prepared. An encouraging word from you can really boost their confidence—and their performance.
  3. Model accountability, so students will see it in action. For example, when you tell students you will return graded assignments to them at a specific time, do so.
  4. Check in with students regarding their progress in learning regularly and often. A 2014 study of community college students found that student-faculty interaction was the strongest predictor of student success (Lundberg, 2017). Catching students before or after class or in the lab, clinicals or even the hallway helps them recognize that you too are invested in their success. It also reminds them that you’re keeping tabs on their progress!
  5. Avoid “kind-hearted prejudice”. When students have issues outside school that impact their performance, do what you can to help, but maintain the focus on the expected academic behaviors. (Most academic institutions have various student services to assist with financial, social, or emotional problems and referral is usually the best approach to helping them resolve those issues).   Relaxing our expectations for any student generally only hurts the student by lowering achievement and limiting their prospects for the future.
  6. Do not let other people bring you down through their emphasis on students’ inabilities. It is usually helpful to turn the conversation to “How can we help the students reach our expectations?”

To all of the nursing faculty and health professions faculty out there, welcome to Fall, 2017.  I wish for all of you an exceptional academic year.


_____ (2012) Teacher Expectations of Students: A self-fulfilling prophecy?  The Progress of Educational Reform.    December.   13(6) https://www.ecs.org/clearinghouse/01/05/51/10551.pdf  accessed, August, 2017.

Lundberg, C. (2014)  Peers & Faculty as Predictors of Learning for Community College.  42(2)  journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0091552113517931  accessed, August, 2017

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