Team Solutions

High Expectations Teaching at St Paul's College

Building Belief2

The importance of teachers having high expectations for both themselves and their students has been stressed repeatedly in recent years, but what this means in practice has often been left vague or undefined. Over the course of 2016 St Paul's College has been working with Team Solutions facilitators to change that as part of the school's ambitious goal of getting 85 per cent of its students to achieve a NCEA external achievement standard in each subject.

The results so far have been highly encouraging, with St Paul's College HOD Science Geraint Tagaloa seeing his class's merit and excellence pass rates double from 19 to 38 per cent.

What is High Expectation Teaching?

High Expectation Teaching is a set of educational principles and practices developed by the University of Auckland professor Christine Rubie-Davies between 2012-2014 in her Teacher Expectation Project. 

"High expectations is an idea that's been bandied about for at least 20 years, but no one had really looked into what it meant in practice. I identified a number of teachers producing great results who exhibited high expectations of both themselves and their students and looked for common elements in their educational approach. What I found was that there were three main things that defined a high-expectations teacher."

The first common element was that teachers rejected ability grouping or streaming, the second was that they developed a positive and inclusive class climate and the third was that they set goals with their students and mapped out how to achieve them.

Together these elements created a classroom where students weren't pigeon-holed as high or low ability, had access to the same opportunities and were each encouraged to challenge themselves.

Running an experiment in 84 classrooms, Christine found that by cultivating these practices in teachers they were able to produce a 28 per cent improvement over the control classes in mathematics achievement in the first year of the study alone. Roughly an entire extra term's worth of learning.

"High expectations means more than just walking around saying you have high expectations. If you truly believe that all students can do well, that means it is your responsibility as their teacher to ensure they reach their potential. There's no relegating them to a low-ability table and writing off their failure to achieve, as that simply becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy." 

Team Solutions facilitator Faye Booker says that in practice a key difference between high expectations teaching and low-expectations teaching lies in giving students a sense of agency and creating opportunities for all students to display high level thinking.

"Teachers often try to simplify complex ideas to make them easier to understand but if you're not careful you can end up doing the students' thinking for them and all they're left with is a basic explanation and a set of mechanical tasks, there's no thinking required so they don't really explore the ideas, and there's nothing for them to really get engaged with," Faye said.


An example of creating space for high level thinking at St Paul's College

In Geraint Tagaloa's year 11 science class, Geraint worked to create space for high-level thinking using an experiment to measure the height a rubber ball will bounce if dropped.

"In a traditional classroom students would be tasked with designing an investigation using a fairly formulaic process that often doesn't challenge them to think critically about the reasoning behind each step," Faye said. "In Geraint's classroom students were challenged to make evidence-based planning decisions with minimal restrictions. For example, rather than giving them a specific set of equipment and instructions, we challenged them to collect sufficient accurate and reliable data to meet their aim. This required them to collect evidence to justify their decisions about what equipment they would use, the measurements they would make, and so on."

Geraint served as a mediator for the discussions, asking pointed questions where necessary to guide his students' thinking.

"The goal isn't that the students come to a specific 'correct' solution, but rather that they exhibit high-level thinking in tackling the problem," Faye said. "It’s about asking yourself ‘what are the big ideas we want the kids to grapple with?’ rather than 'what facts do we want them to know?'."


Building belief

Team Solutions Facilitator Faye Booker delivered a presentation to St Paul's College teachers and middle-leaders about building their belief that their students were capable of learning and achieving beyond what they might typically achieve in a year (i.e./ accelerating their learning).

While explaining the research behind High Expectation Teaching, Faye also shared stories of her own experiences selecting a group of students to work with and how they had developed the capability to improve their performances beyond what many had thought possible.


Questions to consider:

  • What beliefs do you hold about your students' potentials?
  • What beliefs do you hold about your ability to accelerate the learning for ALL students in your class?
  • Do you use ability groupings in your class or school?  How might this limit student learning opportunities?

Modelling best practice

After observing Geraint delivering his lessons, Faye identified that he had developed very positive relationships with all his students but their learning would benefit from more opportunities to think critically.  

She modelled a lesson with the class to demonstrate the principles of High Expectations Teaching, asking Geraint to watch for differences in their teaching styles and how the students reacted to this.


Questions to consider:

  • How many opportunities for higher order thinking do your students get each lesson?  How might you check this?
  • How often do your students talk about their learning and ideas in your lessons?
  • Do ALL your students get the opportunity to engage in higher order thinking?

Creating opportunities for high-level thinking

Working collaboratively with Faye, Geraint put high expectations principles into action in a pair of Science achievement standards (Physics 1.1: Carry out a practical investigation that leads to a linear mathematical relationship with direction, and Science 1.14: Demonstrate an understanding of carbon cycling), altering his teaching style to provide his students with more opportunities to display high-level thinking.

"Geraint did a great job of flipping the usual approach," Faye said. "Rather than lay out a set of tasks for his students, he started with the overall goal and guided his students through the process of getting there. For example, he paired his students and got them to take turns in  explaining their carbon cycle images and listening and giving feedback on the explanations.  This required his students to consider more deeply what they were learning and to clearly communicate their connections between science ideas."


Questions to consider:

  • What questions could you ask of students that require them to think more critically?
  • How could you celebrate and value the different ways of thinking in your class?
  • What could you do differently to give your students more agency in your class?

Get started at your own school

If you’d like more information on how Team Solutions’ could work with your school to lift student achievement in NCEA and help boost academic outcomes, email us at