Our alumni tell us that one of the most important concepts they take away from the Stronger Smarter Leadership Program is High-Expectations Relationships.

All teachers believe in high expectations. However, if high expectations sit only in the performance frame, students who fail to meet the expected level at the expected time get left behind.

High-Expectations Relationships, developed by Dr Chris Sarra, change the performance agenda to a relational agenda (Sarra et al., 2020). This ensures a learning environment that is both firm and fair: high expectations for all in a supportive environment that understands individual circumstances and needs

Viewing the world differently

High-Expectations Relationships asks teachers to think about teaching. If we are asking students to ‘fit in’ to the values and strengths defined by our western education system, we may miss the strengths that First Nations students bring to the classroom.  High-Expectations Relationships asks teachers to change this around. If we want to ensure that every student has the same opportunities to learn, it is essential to delve deep to recognise the cultural lenses we all bring to the classroom.

Moving away from the western lens means deep listening to understand how each student is different, how they see the world and how they like to learn.  Only then can we recognise and value the different knowledges, strengths and ways of being that all students bring.

Finding the balance

Teacher-student relationships are recognised as essential in quality teaching. However, if this sits only in the well-being frame, the ‘one size fits all’ view of ‘Indigenous education’ that treats First Nations students differently can open the space for excuses and lose the rigour of high expectations. Using performance standards to treat everyone the same and expecting all students to ‘fit in’ disempowers teachers.

High-Expectations Relationships describe what the ‘relationships’ aspect of quality teaching should look like, where the well-being aspect is balanced by robust conversations. A High-Expectations Relationship sets up the emotional bank account, creating a safe and trusting environment. Within this place of safety, there can be respectful and open dialogue between teacher and students to challenge behaviours and agree on high expectations.

Everyone is a learner

Every context is different, and every school is different.  However, in every school, a foundation of High-Expectations Relationships will lead to quality teaching. We show this in the Stronger Smarter Vision of a Deadly school, where the pillars of strategic planning, policy and procedures are underlain by High-Expectations Relationships.

High-Expectations Relationships move from thinking about ‘who’ we are teaching towards ‘how’ we teach, leading to a space where every student is treated equally as a learner. In this space, when we understand different ways of seeing the world, we can then build the curriculum and teaching strategies that will meet diverse learning needs.  This is empowering for teachers.

As our alumni tell us, when High-Expectations Relationships become the foundation for the school, when the balance is right, it becomes possible to enact high expectations for everyone.

For more information on High-Expectations Relationships:

Stronger Smarter Institute (2014).  High-Expectations Relationships.  A Foundation for Quality Learning Environments in all Australian Schools.  Stronger Smarter Institute Limited Position Paper. High-Expectations Relationships | Stronger Smarter

Sarra, C., Spillman, D., Jackson, C., Davis, J., & Bray, J.  (2020).  High-Expectations Relationships:  A Foundation for Enacting High Expectations in all Australian schools.  The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education.  49(1), pp32-45.  Published online in 2018.  First View. doi 10.1017/jie.2018.10