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I recently heard about an interesting study done on fleas. The fleas were placed in a jar and were allowed to bounce around eventually jumping out of the jar to their freedom. Other fleas were placed into a jar that was covered by a lid. Fleas bounced and jumped until they hit their itty-bitty heads on the lid. They continued to jump, but soon none were hitting the lid. They learned to jump just high enough, but not too high to hit their heads. When the lid was removed, the fleas continued to jump, but remained in the jar for fear of hitting their heads. They had found their comfort zone below the imaginary lid level.

All of the time I was thinking of those silly fleas, it led me to consider how sometimes we (educators and parents) lower the bar of expectations for our students/children. I have seen many children live up to these lowered expectations and then “hit their ceiling.” If we place a lid on our children’s world by expecting the minimum instead of hoping for the best, then we usually will get the minimum or less.

Top 5 Suggestions for Successfully Raising the Bar

  1. With more complex goals (like potty training or verbal communication), set smaller sub-goals. As the individual advances through these sub-goals, put up the next goal. It’s kind of like training for the high jump where you have an initial expectation and you raise the bar incrementally as the athlete progresses.
  2. Make sure to reward and cheer even minor accomplishments on the path to success. Another benefit to this is that each time this individual “clears the bar,” your enthusiasm in this accomplishment will build his/her self-esteem!
  3. If the bar of expectations you set seems too high, don’t change it immediately. First, try to provide further supports or prompts to encourage success.
  4. Make sure to give enough time for success to be accomplished. Don’t readjust or give up too soon. It takes much repetition, practice and many days (sometimes months) to foster good habits. Give these expectations some time to develop before giving up. I have been blessed with seeing many students grow from elementary school through adult; so I can see how tiny improvements throughout the years have accumulated to major successes in behavior and ability.
  5. Be firm and require everyone in your child’s “circle of influence” to be on the same song sheet of high expectations. If this person is surrounded by people who don’t presume intellect and expect less, they are being coddled which is not in their best interest in the long run.

I am not saying we should have unreachable or unrealistic expectations, but I do firmly believe we should have very challenging expectations that can grow or readjust with these amazing kids. Set the bar of potential high and cheer these guys on as they do their best to meet those expectations. So many times I have seen students achieve much higher levels of achievement than I would have predicted. They might not always reach the “bar” I set, but in the process, they are reaching higher than expected. It’s so exciting to see this.

Reach for the moon and you just might touch a star!