Great Expectations (Not Quite Dickens)

If you choose to go anywhere with me outside of my state, I will inadvertently embarrass you. From Texas to Tunisia, I instantly adopt an accent and mannerisms matching those around me. While traveling in Paris with my daughter, who does speak French, I (short, round and southern-drawled) spoke English but with Pepe’ Le Pew’s accent. I flitted my hands to match dismissive French gestures and carried myself with the assurance of the skinniest French model. At least I thought I did. My daughter could take no more and engaged in an accent intervention when I told the taxi driver that we had no “lug-ah’-je” and silkily glided into the back seat. Both the driver and my daughter looked at me with amusement and disgust. I travel alone more now.

While in London, I heard “that’s brilliant” being used many times. I suddenly had a motto: Be Brilliant! I took it back and unleashed it on my students. I said it all the time; I drew lightbulbs on their assignments. I was as obnoxious with my brilliance as I was with my French accent.

This time it fit. Being brilliant is multi-layered. The first definition almost always includes “bright” and “radiant.” Asking students to radiate a light of knowledge is brilliant. “Distinguished” often appears in a second definition. Asking students to show dignity and demand respect is brilliant. Finally, asking students to apply the third definition of displaying intelligence and talent is brilliant.

I believed in their brilliance; my expectations were great. Expectations survive only with hope, and hope is essential for success. I am not claiming that everyone’s grades went up and happiness flourished. However, what did happen was that my students knew I believed in them. I created a culture of high expectations that pushed them to own their learning. The unsubtle constancy of the phrase created subtle differences. Even as they rolled their eyes at me over the silliness of the lightbulbs, by the end of the year, many of my students remarked about that phrase and what it meant them.

This concept translates for parents, teachers, and administrators. A meaningful quotation on the fridge, on the classroom board, or in the school’s halls is effective. Choose a motif with a motive.   Make it authentic. Use it ad nauseam.   They won’t forget. You believe in their success which can be defined in a myriad of ways.

In the meantime, anyone want to go with me to Italy? I am suro we can get byo with just adding an “o” to our wordso to be understoodo.