- Emmanuel Caulk, superintendent of the Fayette County Public Schools in Kentucky, was recently recognized for Leadership in Districtwide Improvement by Education Week based on the way has transformed a district that was financially challenged, had a fractured school board and was facing criticism from the state for ignoring the needs of special education, low-income and nonwhite students.
- Caulk points out three main areas of focus he used to effect change: establishing collective values, expecting results from other people and yourself, and building community partnerships.
- School board and community members say Caulk has restored confidence in the school district by his community engagement strategies and his attention to the needs of the students who struggle the most.
Caulk, who was a special education teacher before becoming an administrator, credits his approach to having a teacher who refused to lower the bar for him when he was struggling in school as a child. This effort, though it may have made life harder at the time, gave him personal experience with the long-term effects of a culture of high expectations
Teachers and administrators may subconsciously “write-off” students they don’t expect to succeed because of income status, poverty, race, past performance, the performance of their siblings, or other reasons. They come to expect less of them, and these lowered expectations affect the student’s performance in the classroom. Research by Robert Rosenthal indicated this in 1964 when he studied how higher expectations produce higher results. More recent research by Robert Marzano notes similar results. Marzano found that teachers who have high expectations of students treat them differently by engaging with them more often, asking them more challenging questions and providing them with more wait time.
The issue is important because expectations shape the lives of students in multiple ways. “Expectations for competence shape social interaction in subtle but powerful ways. Also, once developed, expectations tend to be self-fulfilling," Esther Quintero, a senior fellow at the Albert Shanker Institute, wrote in a piece for The Washington Post. "The higher the expectations for someone, the more likely it is that this person will receive opportunities to speak up, the more likely it is his/her suggestions will be positively viewed by others, and the more likely it is that this person will stick to his/her ideas in the face of disagreement or criticism by others."