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Setting Expectations

Instruction

Setting clear and achievable expectations for students is paramount in any educational practice. It is especially important in outdoor education in order to set every student up for success. Whether the experience is something familiar to students or completely foreign, being transparent regarding expectations and providing explanations as to why they are important helps students have a clear understanding of learning targets, safety, and more.

When expectations are made clear upon meeting your students, you immediately set them up for success by highlighting your faith in their capability; i.e. you expect something because you know they can achieve it. Being explicit about what you would like the group norms to be also helps students to feel safe and gives them an understanding that they have a voice in their learning, and thus ownership over it. Of course, it is essential to explain the why behind your expectations so that students understand that these expectations are being set for an important reason beyond you as the instructor merely seeking compliance.

As you roll out your expectations for students at the start of their educational experience, it is important to give clear examples of ways they can follow these guidelines and expectations by framing them as positive actions; what you would like to see from students, rather than what you would not like to see. If you set expectations early on and students are unable to follow instructions or behave in accordance with your expectations, this tells you that some students may need more scaffolding in order for them to be more successful in meeting these academic or behavioral expectations. This could also inform you that your expectations are unrealistic, that you need to be clearer and more concise in how you explain them to students, or break your expectations down into smaller steps that students can more easily put into practice.

Because students may be unfamiliar with the structure of your program, providing a schedule along with expectations for group norms can provide a sense of structure and consistency when students may otherwise be feeling dysregulated by the change in academic setting and sheer unfamiliarity of being away from home.

In an outdoor educational setting, expectations can look like [asking for]:

  • Positive and respectful communication
  • Full participation during discussions (so that students are able to learn to collaborate and share ideas with one another)
  • Active listening (so that everyone in the group is heard)
  • Challenge by choice (so that every student is challenged and has a choice in the degree of which he or she is challenged)
  • Build a positive audience (so that students feel supported when sharing and speaking with the group)
  • Assume positive intentions (so that students can work through conflict with one another)
  • Take risks
  • Physical and emotional safety
  • Get dirty and/or uncomfortable
  • Have fun

If you notice that students aren’t reaching their potential and you’re realizing that it’s because you neglected to inform them of any expectations, it’s important to be transparent with your students about this. Owning up to mistakes and admitting to students that they weren’t set up for success by no fault of their own is important in order to help create a culture of error within the group; that is, teaching students that everyone makes mistakes, even adults.

In sharing expectations with the group, it is equally as important to ask for students’ expectations. This will help you to meet their unique needs, incorporate their interests into your lessons in order to increase their learning, and build rapport. By taking an interest in hearing what students expect their outdoor educational experience to look like, you demonstrate that you care about making their experience a meaningful one, and that you’re taking a personal interest in each and every individual in the group. When students see that you’re able to communicate with them why you are unable to meet their expectations, but that you’re at least interested in hearing them out they are more likely to trust in the time and effort you put into the group, which will result in stronger relationships with your students in the short time you may have with them.

Building trust with your students and showing that you have faith in their learning and their ability to take on new challenges to meet expectations will go a long way in enhancing the group dynamic, ensuring that students have the most memorable, meaningful, and transformative outdoor educational experience possible. Overall, communicating clearly with your students about your expectations and authentically showing them that you have their best interest in mind will enrich the impact of their learning experience and can positively affect how they approach new learning experiences in the future.

Setting clear and achievable expectations for students is paramount in any educational practice. It is especially important in outdoor education in order to set every student up for success. Whether the experience is something familiar to students or completely foreign, being transparent regarding expectations and providing explanations as to why they are important helps students have a clear understanding of learning targets, safety, and more.

When expectations are made clear upon meeting your students, you immediately set them up for success by highlighting your faith in their capability; i.e. you expect something because you know they can achieve it. Being explicit about what you would like the group norms to be also helps students to feel safe and gives them an understanding that they have a voice in their learning, and thus ownership over it. Of course, it is essential to explain the why behind your expectations so that students understand that these expectations are being set for an important reason beyond you as the instructor merely seeking compliance.

As you roll out your expectations for students at the start of their educational experience, it is important to give clear examples of ways they can follow these guidelines and expectations by framing them as positive actions; what you would like to see from students, rather than what you would not like to see. If you set expectations early on and students are unable to follow instructions or behave in accordance with your expectations, this tells you that some students may need more scaffolding in order for them to be more successful in meeting these academic or behavioral expectations. This could also inform you that your expectations are unrealistic, that you need to be clearer and more concise in how you explain them to students, or break your expectations down into smaller steps that students can more easily put into practice.

Because students may be unfamiliar with the structure of your program, providing a schedule along with expectations for group norms can provide a sense of structure and consistency when students may otherwise be feeling dysregulated by the change in academic setting and sheer unfamiliarity of being away from home.

In an outdoor educational setting, expectations can look like [asking for]:

  • Positive and respectful communication
  • Full participation during discussions (so that students are able to learn to collaborate and share ideas with one another)
  • Active listening (so that everyone in the group is heard)
  • Challenge by choice (so that every student is challenged and has a choice in the degree of which he or she is challenged)
  • Build a positive audience (so that students feel supported when sharing and speaking with the group)
  • Assume positive intentions (so that students can work through conflict with one another)
  • Take risks
  • Physical and emotional safety
  • Get dirty and/or uncomfortable
  • Have fun

If you notice that students aren’t reaching their potential and you’re realizing that it’s because you neglected to inform them of any expectations, it’s important to be transparent with your students about this. Owning up to mistakes and admitting to students that they weren’t set up for success by no fault of their own is important in order to help create a culture of error within the group; that is, teaching students that everyone makes mistakes, even adults.

In sharing expectations with the group, it is equally as important to ask for students’ expectations. This will help you to meet their unique needs, incorporate their interests into your lessons in order to increase their learning, and build rapport. By taking an interest in hearing what students expect their outdoor educational experience to look like, you demonstrate that you care about making their experience a meaningful one, and that you’re taking a personal interest in each and every individual in the group. When students see that you’re able to communicate with them why you are unable to meet their expectations, but that you’re at least interested in hearing them out they are more likely to trust in the time and effort you put into the group, which will result in stronger relationships with your students in the short time you may have with them.

Building trust with your students and showing that you have faith in their learning and their ability to take on new challenges to meet expectations will go a long way in enhancing the group dynamic, ensuring that students have the most memorable, meaningful, and transformative outdoor educational experience possible. Overall, communicating clearly with your students about your expectations and authentically showing them that you have their best interest in mind will enrich the impact of their learning experience and can positively affect how they approach new learning experiences in the future.

About the Author
Rebekah Gardea

Before starting the IslandWood Graduate Program in Education for Environment and Community, I worked as an afterschool program employee, a preschool teacher, and as a special education teacher’s aid.

I believe that education should inspire students to ask questions about the world around them in order to gain a deeper and more meaningful understanding of it. As an educator, I aim to create a nurturing yet challenging environment where student interests are supported and paired with thought-provoking concepts that generates the curiosity needed for a life-long love of learning.