The Power of Expectations

I recently rewatched a movie that required viewing when I was in school. It was called Stand and Deliver. It was from the ’80s and it follows a group at a school in a poor area with low academic achievement. It was based on a true story.

The movie follows a passionate teacher who wants to raise the kids’ self-esteem and skills by teaching them math at a high level. He wants them to start to see college as an option for themselves, rather than just something rich kids do.

A repeated theme throughout the movie is “these kids will rise to the expectations,” and at the time it seemed the other teachers merely accepted low standards, which let the kids off the hook.

Mr. Escalante, the teacher inspiring the kids, was right to lead with his high expectations and oversaw the first group ever at the school through passing the calculus advanced placement exam, where many of them received college credit. The number of kids doing so increased in years following.

Expectations are powerful. However, they do have to be backed up by a few things:

  1. A leader who can guide his students/workers/proteges that the expectations being sought.
  2. Clear goals.
  3. A group committed to improving themselves.

To review how these played out in the movie vs. other realities in life:

  1. Mr. Escalante knew calculus. He knew all the math leading up to calculus. He was capable of teaching them all the gaps in their knowledge. This wouldn’t work with a boss who had huge expectations of a worker to achieve results that the boss had no idea how to achieve himself.
  2. In the movie, the goal was to pass the calculus advanced placement exam and achieve college credit. That’s clear. If it was, “Raise your knowledge of mathematics to a high level.” That’s not clear. No one knows where that finish line is.
  3. There were some students that didn’t participate or dropped out of Mr. Escalante’s challenge. There were also some that were fighting other’s expectations of them to be “more ordinary” or more like the culture of the rest of the school. The way the movie portrayed it, there wasn’t a history of academic achievement at the school, so these kids had no one to look to, other than wanting to better themselves. Those who had that desire, proceeded and succeeded.

The important thing is with all three of these, incredibly high expectations can be met and when they are, the culture is changed. A new bar is set, others see the standards, and a new round of raising the expectations can begin.

Expectations are powerful.

P.S. It’s a feel good movie with a great message. Watch Stand and Deliver if you haven’t seen it and are searching for something.