Here’s something I hate to admit: When we go out in public as a family, I often expect that my six-year-old will be the one pushing boundaries and my four-year-old will be more compliant. Indeed, this scenario is often the one that plays out. Over the years, I’ve learned that part of it has to do with the different temperaments of my children, and part of it—a bigger part than I like to acknowledge—has to do with my expectations.

teacher with students

Children are masters at reading our expectations of them. What we communicate with our body language, mood, and tone of voice while interacting with them often speaks louder than the actual words we say. And when we have expectations, guess what? For better or worse, the children live into them.

Nobody knows this better than teachers. Is it any wonder the Teacher’s Pet embraces his or her role more every day? Expectations can create a positive or a negative feedback loop that has a major impact on how students behave and learn.

A recent Education Week article, Dyslexia and the Power of Teacher Expectations*, delves into the impact of teacher expectations on students with dyslexia. The author, Kyle Redford, describes how students with dyslexia commonly view themselves as intellectually inferior. Humiliation about their learning disability causes them to retreat from class participation, thus furthering the expectation—held by themselves and by their teachers—that they aren’t going to perform well in school.

To break this cycle, Redford asserts that greater understanding of dyslexia is essential. Teachers must be trained to identify dyslexia. Further, they must not expect that students with dyslexia will underperform their peers. If teachers fully understand and communicate the extent to which students with dyslexia are intelligent and capable, these students will have a much greater chance of raising their achievement.

Tools and adjustments like audiobooks, speech-to-text spelling apps, and extra time on assessments can be game-changers for students with dyslexia, Redford says. “But if teachers don't know the potential that lurks below their struggling student's symptoms, they may not explore these possibilities.”

The author ends with a moving story about how, when she encouraged one of her students with dyslexia who was reading at a low level to listen to audio books at her intellectual level, the impact was profound:

“All of her teachers noticed growth in the quality and volume of her writing, her participation in discussions, and in the clarity of her expression. She walked with more confidence. She talked with more confidence. She smiled more and missed school less. Her newfound sense of potential also spurred her to self-advocate for other academic accommodations. All of these observed gains by her teachers were recently confirmed when her spring standardized test scores highlighted significant academic progress in nearly every area.

All that student growth took place without one expensive intervention. A student believed she could, so she did.

For more information on teacher expectations and dyslexia, listen to this recording of the Senate Committee on Education’s recent hearing entitled “Understanding Dyslexia: The Intersection of Scientific Research and Education.”

Read Naturally programs offer intensive, individualized instruction with feedback, guidance, and ongoing assessment in phonemic awareness, phonics, and reading fluency, as well as support for comprehension and vocabulary. According to the nation’s top researchers, this is the ideal approach for students with dyslexia. Our programs also feature audio support, which allows students to work slightly above instructional level. As Redford noted in her article, this shift can be a game-changer for students with dyslexia who are embarrassed to be reading at lower levels.

For more information on how Read Naturally programs support students with dyslexia, check out this section of our website.

Let’s all try a little harder to check negative self-fulfilling prophecies at the door and expect the best from our students—and our children.

*Note that Education Week articles are accessed on a tiered subscription model. Non-subscribers can enjoy three free articles per month.