How to Create Instructional Expectations for Teachers

Daphne Heflin
Daphne Heflin
Elementary School Principal; Ed.S. in Educational Leadership and Administration
Teacher instructing at a chalkboard at the front of a classroom.

“I have high expectations for my staff,” say many school leaders. The connotation is that the expectations are hard or challenging. So what is the reality? What does it mean to have “high” expectations?

Reality is that regardless of the degree of difficulty, wrong things lead to wrong results; right things lead to right results. To yield best results, expectations must be created around what is right or effective. Expectations are “high” when they are right for the organization and when they are consistently upheld.

Creating and implementing effective, impactful expectations requires answers to the following questions:

  • Where do high expectations come from?
  • What are appropriate expectations in this organization?
  • How do we transition from having a list of high expectations to having staff meet the expectations?

Where do high expectations come from?

To answer this question one must first determine the area(s) of need. Foundational needs in classrooms include: teachers need to teach, and students need to learn. These needs require instructional expectations. Such expectations are right for getting results when created around research-based and evidence-based practices.

Components to consider when studying proven practices and creating instructional expectations include but are not limited to the following: time, resources, pacing, planning and preparation, alignment, learning standards, student grouping, formative and summative assessments, professional learning, organization, etc. What practices do research and evidence-based findings indicate as being effective in these areas? The answers lead to impactful instructional expectations.

What are appropriate expectations in this organization?

Some teacher expectations in the classroom are non-negotiable because of their effect size or their degree of “rightness.” These may be determined solely by the leader or collaboratively with others. The current school culture should be considered when determining the people to involve in the creation of expectations.

Impactful instructional expectations that immediately come to mind as being non-negotiable in schools include but are not limited to the following:

  • Teachers and paraprofessionals are to engage with students during the entire instructional block.
  • Teachers are to use the proven cycle of teaching and learning when instructing in both small and large group sessions. This cycle must be clearly defined for teaching staff, and teaching staff must be trained on it.
  • Teachers must follow the instructional schedule and the lesson plans. This expectation ensures alignment, given that proper planning has been done, and equal opportunities for all students where there are multiple classes in the same grade level or multiple classes taking the same subject.
  • Teachers are to align instruction and assessments with student learning standards. Training on this expectation involves helping teachers understand the learning standards and understand the meaning of alignment and what it looks like.
  • Teachers are to use knowledge gained from student performance data to reteach and plan interventions.
  • Teachers are to expose students to standards-based vocabulary and questions/activities formatted like student assessment items. This expectation contributes to fairness so that formatting is not the cause of student error on assessments.

Some proven practices that are the basis for teacher expectations above include:

  • Engagement
  • Proper planning
  • Alignment
  • Cycle of teaching and learning (which includes communication of goals, modeling, student engagement, formative assessment, corrective feedback, cooperative learning, spaced practice, and alignment)
  • Fairness and equal opportunities
  • Effective use of data
  • Interventions

How do we transition from having a list of expectations to having teachers meet the expectations?

Elusiveness must be removed, staff must have what they need, and staff must be held accountable. Without any of these components, teacher performance expectations will simply be a list of statements on paper rather than actions that lead to results. Following are explanations of these components.

Definition and Training

Effectively defining the expectations, thus removing elusiveness, requires training staff so they know what the expectations look like in action. Training can occur in professional development sessions, professional learning communities, coaching sessions, mentoring sessions and/or modeling sessions.


Teachers must have the necessary resources or they will struggle to meet the expectations. Resources for the forenamed instructional expectations include:

  • A well-designed instructional schedule
  • A lesson plan format matching the instructional schedule and requiring teachers to plan for components required in the expectations
  • Grade-level and subject area learning standards and pacing guides
  • Space and time for planning
  • Professional learning


Expectations must be measurable to allow for accountability. Means of measuring the fidelity with which instructional expectations are being met include: observations, student and teacher artifacts, and student outcomes.

Through observations an administrator can determine if a teacher is following the instructional schedule and lesson plans, adhering to the teaching and learning cycle, engaging with students, providing feedback in response to formative assessments, and more.

Another means of measurement is checking student and teacher artifacts. Lesson plans, schedules, assessments, standards taught and tested, student portfolios, student products, etc. can be checked frequently to determine if expectations are being met consistently.

A third way to determine if expectations are being met is student outcomes. Students’ day-to-day progress along with performance on assessments indicates the consistency with which teachers meet instructional expectations, because student performance is highly dependent upon what is happening in the classroom.

In conclusion, where there are wrong expectations or high expectations with no accountability, there are poor outcomes. However, where there are high expectations and accountability for meeting them, there are positive outcomes. Ultimately, needs for teachers to teach and students to learn are addressed through high instructional expectations and accountability for all.

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