High Expectations Territory

May 17, 2011 12 Comments

I taught three different classes last semester, one at the undergraduate level and two at the MBA level, including one I delivered for the first time. It’s a lot of work teaching three different subjects to three different audiences. I got my evaluations back today from all three classes and many students thought I did a very good job, most thought I did an acceptable job, and a few thought I should have been fired yesterday.

If you are going to have high expectations of yourself and others, there is no way you can make everyone happy. High expectations by definition means you have to take risks and try some things you’ve never done before, or make changes to established methods in search of continual improvement. When you take risks, some things are not going to work as well as you thought they might, and from time to time, they might even suck.

When you challenge adults to accept full responsibility for their own learning, you accept the risk that many will not embrace that challenge. Some will lead their entire lives never even understanding the importance of that challenge. Even though I know their self-imposed mediocrity won’t be my fault, it still means I have to continuously improve how I deliver that challenge and how I live up to it myself.

A student said to me this semester “I’m waiting for you to teach me something.” I just about came out of my skin. The prison of that paradigm awaits everyone that surrenders to it’s normative expedience.

Freedom of thought and expression is a wage of accountability, never a privilege of mere participation. Self-doubt, dissonance, and rejection come with the territory of high expectations.  If you are not willing to embrace the messy parts of who you are, how you do your job, and what others might think of you, then you can never invite and encourage others to do the same.

If you are willing to seek the edge of chaos, you will soon learn that some of the most amazing people you will ever have the honor to meet were there long before you arrived.

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Comments (12)

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  1. Anthony Marcin says:

    I for one learned a lot from one your class this semester. I am amazed someone said “I’m waiting for you to teach me something.” I would assume this person really was not into the class or really did not care all that much. Regardless of what class someone takes you always can learn even if you think you might know more than the instructor.

    A great professor years ago I was privileged to learn a great deal from said “the more you learn the more you really start to realize you don’t know”.

    Again a great class this last semester and wish you the best in your future classes. I look forward to your future blog posts on this subject. You have opened my mind to a new world.

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    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    thanks for the kind words, Anthony. It was a sincere pleasure meeting and working with you. Leadership is a public activity. As I said in class, if you are OK with the good things folks will say about you, you also have to be OK with the shots they take at you. Both types of feedback are necessary for improvement. Thanks! Bret

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  2. Leeja says:

    Bret, my boyfriend is a chemical engineering professor, and no matter what you do, you can’t please everyone. No matter what your students say in class, there will always be something that they feel you could improve on to make their learning experience better. Of course, “you can’t please all of the people all of the time” either, but that’s not where I’m going.

    I’m 38 years old and will be finishing my bachelors in accounting in September. Of all the professors I’ve had in the last 3 and a half years since I’ve been back in school, the one who impressed me the most was the one who said on the first day of class, “I will ask for feedback and suggestions for class improvement at the end of course, but if you think of something before then that will improve your learning experience, please email me before then.” The last week of class, we had an open discussion about it also. Not only was it refreshing and made him more approachable, but I’ve talked to couple students who have taken his class since and he actually implemented some of it, which showed he not only listened but heard what the students had to say. With 3 classes left to graduation, I’d take three professors like him any day.

    Being in school at any age is what you make of it. The student who made the comment to you will suffer in the end, as they won’t get nearly as much from their college experience as they should. I’m of the belief that teaching goes both ways, and when you stop learning, part of you dies (for lack of a better way to put it).

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    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Great advice, Leeja. I usually run into two kinds of feedback when I ask in class – remarks intended to help us meet high expectations and remarks intended to lower the expectations. It’s alarming how the request for lower standards is so normative. Hard work is rarely fun, but almost always profitable. Thanks! Bret

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    Leeja Reply:

    This is very telling though. It points out to you which students are willing to put in the hard work and which ones are just there for the piece of paper!

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    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    True, but even more for me it shows who is willing to accept responsibility for the things they do and who is not. Thanks! Bret

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  3. Bret,
    Did you counter the student with…I am waiting for you to take some ownership of your education and learn something? LOL! I hope that student wasn’t in my class!

    Sharon
    http://www.sharonmarkovsky.com

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    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    ha! No, not that one :) and no, not in your class. Thanks! Bret

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  4. Bret,

    The education system in America, like most other government “led” initiatives, is fundamentally rooted with a sense of entitlement for it’s participants. This is why America is quickly deteriorating across the board. America was once the epitome of hard work, with people maximizing their efforts to create their “American Dream”.

    However, America has quickly digressed and taken a “woe is me” stance in life. Somehow, the belief that a persons’ well-being or lack their of, is a direct result of someone else’s actions, other than their own!

    As a professor, your challenge, among many others, is to show students how wrong this mentality is a create a paradigm shift in their thinking. You can present facts and figures, but the most important thing you can do as a teacher is to help others learn to take responsibility and think for themselves!

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    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Well said, Steven, and I concur. We’ve had a victim mentality in society for several decades now. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Bret

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  5. Thank you Bret. My evaluation of the class I hope was nothing but constructive and I appreciate all you do. You taught me my first MBA class and I was hooked.

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    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Your behavior speaks for itself, Peter. Continue to stretch for high standards and you will do very well. Thanks! Bret

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