Are High Expectations a good thing?
High expectations are quite different than wishful thinking. Expectations are palpable even if not explicitly stated. Sometimes tough love in the form of clear expectations, managed appropriately, is the greatest gift. However, there is a fine but definite line between expecting a lot and applying pressure.
During an internship in grad school I was very fortunate to learn from Helen Hulick Beebe herself. Known as “Beebe”, she was a pioneer of the Auditory-Verbal Approach (then also known as the Unisensory Approach) to habilitating children with hearing loss. I had heard amazing things about her clinic up on the hill in Easton, Pennsylvania. It sounded crazy to me that she taught children with hearing loss to listen. To be honest I arrived at the clinic as a skeptic because the basic concept of “learning to listen” didn’t match anything I had learned in my previous 6 years of Speech-Language Pathology or Deaf Education studies.
I spent my college days learning about all the things the Deaf could NOT do and listening was one of them.
Beebe was about to open my eyes to a different reality……one lesson at a time.
Little did I know the long lasting life lessons I was about to learn from Beebe. My very first day at the clinic Beebe invited me into one of her therapy sessions with a boy who was about 9 years of age. I remember very clearly the moment Beebe asked him to introduce himself to me. He politely said his name, his grade and the name of the school he attended. His speech was challenging to decipher but I managed to understand his name and his grade. I couldn’t make out the name of his school. I was new in town so I had no idea of the names of any local schools to even venture a guess. In turn, I introduced myself and turned back to Beebe with the expectation that she would being her lesson. Well, that’s exactly what happened but the lesson wasn’t quite what I expected.
Beebe asked me if I understood the boy. I decided in an instant that it was important to encourage and not embarrass him so I lied “Yes, I did.”
Then rather unexpectedly came the next question. “What school does he go to?” Silly me, I lied again “Well, it was a local elementary school but I forgot the name that he mentioned.” It was obvious she could see right through me as she turned to him and said “You need to make yourself understood. It’s not her job to figure it out, clearly she didn’t understand you. So try again, and again after that if necessary.” Yikes! I wanted to crawl under the table.
The next several moments were the most painful of my professional life. I tried desperately to understand that child as he desperately tried to make himself clear.
Not only was it stressful to try to understand the student but I had lied to Beebe! The opportunity to make a good first impression on her was gone, wiped out with a lie no less! I was embarrassed, why didn’t I just admit I didn’t understand him? Apparently, pretending to understand poor speech was a more common mistake than I realized at the time and Beebe had quite a few years of calling people out on it before I came along.
As if I didn’t already learn the lesson, over lunch Beebe said “What lesson do you think that boy learns when you say you understand him when you don’t? You’re not doing him any favors by pretending you understand him.
This was one of those lessons that just continued to grow over time. Looking back now I realize it’s more important to give direct and honest feedback to a child about their speech so he/she begins to self monitor accurately. After all, we are trying to develop a child’s skills to become successful in the REAL world. We need to facilitate persistence and have clear expectations of the goal. Isn’t it better to let a child experience and work through a challenge or a failure surrounded by people who care rather than padding their confidence and letting him/her fail out on their own with people who might not be so empathetic or caring?
Beebe was also the one who taught me not to give up my turn in a game for a child to “help me out” . She was also quite clear that we don’t LET a child win a game just so they won’t feel sad if they lost. Is this “tough love?” Maybe it’s just little life lessons that are easier learned along the way when they are young rather than when the consequences of unlearned lessons occur later on in life.
Beebe had high expectations for all of the children she treated.
Beebe also had high levels of success.
This is no coincidence!
Here’s an article of one of Beebe’s students, David Davis who shares his own lessons from Beebe (Click here).
Just as Beebe would let a question hang in the air to ponder I’ll end this lesson here in hopes that you also ponder the lessons you may deliberately (or accidentally) deliver to your own children or the families who work with you in therapy. There will be more “lessons from Beebe” in future posts. Stay tuned.