The Greatest Sin is Not Expecting Enough

By Luke Van de Walle


Roger Bannister was the first person to ever run a four-minute mile. No one on earth had been able to run a mile in under four minutes. Not for thousands of years. Not until Roger Bannister did it in 1954.

But after Bannister ran it, so did 37 other people.

Within a year.

And the year after that, 300 more people ran a four-minute mile.


We are capable of what we believe we can do, for better or for worse. Nowhere is this more true than in our classrooms. Our students are limited only by what we think they can do. They will rise to our expectations, no matter how high (or low) we set them. Too often, our expectations limit our students, imposing artificial ceilings on their achievement.

We must remain productively paranoid about whether our expectations are high enough. In too many classrooms, we’re afraid of challenging students. Let’s replace this fear with a new principle to believe in: that the greatest sin is not challenging our students enough.

One high-performing network of schools makes this sentiment practicable by asking faculty, if 50 percent of the students in the class can answer the question, why are you asking it?

Too often, we are wasting students’ time and underestimating their potential. We must pose problems that are a challenge to all students. Yes, students have different skills and abilities. We must differentiate. However, we differentiate how students reach their goals – not what those goals are. We vary our scaffolds. We do not vary the expectation.


How many runners could have broken the four-minute barrier before Roger Bannister, if someone had simply expected them to? How many Rogers are in our classrooms, ready and waiting for someone to expect of them all that they are capable of doing?

Let us rise to the challenge. Let us sincerely expect of our students what they are truly capable of achieving. There are innumerable records waiting to be broken in our classrooms right now. Let’s set the bar.