Third grade teacher, Shanise Harshaw, reflects on her experience at the NAIS People of Color Conference in this powerful post on expectations.

In December I was privileged to attend the National Association of Independent Schools’ annual People of Color Conference in Philadelphia. This was my first time attending a conference with a focus on community and diversity, so I honestly had no idea what to expect. I arrived in Philadelphia with unsettled expectations and an immense feeling of curiosity. I left Philadelphia feeling empowered, enlightened, and blessed. These were all feelings I did not expect to experience.

Wes Moore, a Rhodes Scholar, youth advocate, Army combat veteran, business leader, and author, delivered the keynote address during the opening ceremonies. His message was profound. He referenced his book titled The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates. I walked away from that opening ceremony weighing the difference and importance of expectation versus environment.

It is quite common to hear, “People are products of their environment.” Good or bad. Whether the environment is a traditional family with a mother and a father; a divorced or blended family; a single parent household; a household struggling with a family member addicted to drugs or alcohol; a household who values education; a household who values little to nothing; a household with ample financial resources, or a lack of; a biracial family; a family with gay or lesbian parents; a white family; a black family; or an Asian family. I could go on endlessly describing various environments people grow up in and how those environments might cause certain effects.

Moore presented the idea that the success of people is not based on environment but rather on expectation. The environment people grow up in undeniably contributes to their moral and character development, but does it determine their ultimate fate in life? If not, what does?

Moore told the story of two men, himself being one, who grew up in the same tough neighborhood but ended up living drastically different lives as adults. Moore grew up to be a Rhodes Scholar, Army combat veteran, White House Fellow, business leader, and author. The other man ended up serving a life sentence in jail. Moore described this chilling truth and tragedy as a result of expectations.

If everyone expects a child to fail because of environmental factors, there is a great possibility that child will not reach their full potential. If that same child has people who hold great expectations for them, that child is more likely to rise to the expectations and reach their full potential. As an educator, I firmly believe that students will rise to meet your expectations. It is pivotal that those expectations exist and are expressed.

I believe that expectation is one critical difference that leads to success or ultimate failure. Moore believes the biggest gap in our society is not an education gap or a technology gap, but rather an expectation gap. This description is simply an opinion, but an opinion that opens the door for us to reflect on the way we think and view others.

People are diverse in a multitude of ways. Diversity is not simply race or ethnicity. Diversity is the umbrella we all live under, and it is what makes each of us unique individuals. The world is full of others; people who are different. When we view others, do we offer our help, support, guidance, and attention, or apathy? At the end of this life journey, many things will not matter, but one question will surely matter. What did you do to make humanity better?

I challenge you to think about how you think about the lives of others. How might your expectations or lack thereof, impact the life of someone else?

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