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In his comprehensive research study, Hattie found the number one variable that affects student achievement is what he calls self-reported grades or what he now labels student expectations. Hattie describes this as how well students create and own challenging expectations.

As an educator I focus on the word “challenging” and how it is defined differently by student’s academic level. For example, my experience is that some students with greater confidence tended to set high expectations yet not high enough because they do not want to fail, while students with low confidence tend to set lower expectations because they know they can successfully achieve achieve the goal.

Hattie says that in general students set safe targets that require less work. My colleague, Dr. Janet Pilcher, uses Hattie’s research as the backdrop of her conversation with educational leaders in the following video:

Pilcher’s interpretation of Hattie’s research focuses on teachers “owning” their contribution to students’ learning; in Who’s Engaged? she reiterates the message:

The primary goal for a teacher is to help students exceed rather than reach their self-defined potential. As teachers we must push the envelope with students… [That is, as teachers we must] expect students to own their learning by pushing and supporting them to do so.

This reminds me of a conversation that I had with my oldest brother many years ago; we were discussing one of the kids in our lives who found success in many different activities. However, when we “challenged” him/her to try an activity that was new, the child did not initially want to participate. We were asking the child to attempt something that was beyond his/her current experience, knowledge, and understanding. We were pushing him/her to try and reach beyond his/her “self-defined potential,” that is, beyond what the child knew he/she could successfully do. One of my colleague describes this in terms of how “learning takes place when one is uncomfortable.” My brother and I were adding a dimension of discomfort in the child when we asked him/her to attempt something he/she was unfamiliar with. As I think more about it, this is nothing different than what we do as educators every day with our students.

In a TED Talk last year Dr. Brené Brown describes a parallel process of engagement as “daring greatly” or “daring great to be in the arena” using a quote of Theodore Roosevelt:

It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who… spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly…

This means as an educator (or parent or aunt/uncle), our focus must be to help each student walk into the learning arena to engage or to try something new, to say “I am going to do this,” and to believe in Roosevelt’s quote for him/herself.





Hattie, John. (2009). Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. New York, NY: Routledge.

The video clip of Dr. Janet Pilcher is from Studer Education’s What’s Right in Education conference 2012. For more information about the 2013 conference October 21-22 visit here.

Pilcher, Janet K. (2012). Who’s Engaged? Climb the Learning Ladder to See. More information available online here.

Brown, Bréne. (03.16.2012). Listening to Shame. TED Talks. Available online here.

Roosevelt, Theodore. (April 23, 1910). A quote from “Citizenship in a Republic,” a speech at the Sorbonne, Paris. Available online from the Theodore Roosevelt Association here.

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