Vermont Higher Education Collaborative Logo

Collaborating with experts to support schools and deliver professional development, ensuring the success of all students.

How to Change Teacher Expectations and Improve Student Outcomes

If you want to change beliefs, the best thing to do is change behaviors

We have known since Rosenthal’s study in 1964 that teacher expectations have a significant effect on student performance.  Figuring out how to change teachers’ beliefs about students, however,  has proven to be a challenge.  Attitudes and beliefs can be hard to change and are manifested in amazingly subtle ways. In this study Robert Pinata tries a new approach.  Pianta thinks that to change beliefs, the best thing to do is change behaviors. “It’s far more powerful to work from the outside in than the inside out if you want to change expectations,” he says. In other words, if you want to change a mind, talking about it is usually not enough.

These findings are consistent with Bill Daggett’s belief that strong student-teacher relationships help to personalize learning, set appropriate expectations and better match student interests with learning opportunities.  What Pianta has added to the mix is the finding that focusing on changing teachers’ behaviors regarding how they relate to students is more effective than talking to them about changing their expectations, attitudes and beliefs.

Pianta has come up with seven ways that teachers can strengthen their relationship with students and  change their expectations.  His recommendations range from observing students to find out their interests to engaging them in non-academic activities and practicing how to respond to problems.  His  ideas all illustrate the point that changing behaviors and focusing on the students can be  more effective than reading or talking about how to change attitudes and beliefs.  If there is a down-side to Pianta’s suggestions it is that, taken together, his list may be hard to implement given the time restraints that most teachers have.

The point is well-taken, however, and important.  The more we can improve relationships with students the more we can personalize their learning. The resulting change in expectations coupled with a better match of student interests, achievement level and learning opportunities has the potential to significantly improve learning for many students across the range of abilities.

To read and hear more about this study go here to the NPR article:


Dennis has been the Director of the the VT-HEC since it was founded in 2000. He spent 16 years at the VT-DOE as Director of teams with various names that included: special education, Title I, health and wellness and other family and education support services. Prior to that Dennis worked at the Barre Town School (VT) starting as a special educator and serving many years as the Director of Student Support Services. He also spent 6 years as a classroom teacher grades 5-8 in NJ.

Leave a Reply