Positive expectations get positive results


How often do people meet our expectations of them, or is it true that we often fall short of them? So if our expectations are high and people fall just short then they’ve done well, but what if our expectations are low without knowing and people live up to this?

Now put yourself in the shoes of a student who had a bad first year at your school, has built a negative reputation for themselves and is spoken of negatively in the staffroom “you have **insert name here** in your class, good luck with that!” What expectations do we have of them, their work and their behaviours? Do we walk into that classroom to teach ‘that bottom set’, or past them in the corridor expecting them to behave in a specific way and thus only see that from them, missing out all the positives they do?

What I’m eluding to here is the Golem effect, a self-fulfilling prophecy where negative attitudes towards a student's ability, potential or behaviour inevitably leads to those outcomes coming true.

> A student misbehaves >
(action towards others)
> Teachers build an opinion that they’re a pain >
(impact on others beliefs)
> Teachers decide not to waste time and energy on them >
 (impact on others actions)
> Student decides ‘what’s the point, they think I’m going to fail so I’ll prove them right’ >
(others beliefs fulfilled in actions)
> Student misbehaves >
...and the cycle continues...

The first step could be true of many things, if they have an older sibling, the actions of their chosen friendship group or even their gender in some cases, but how do we break this cycle?

The Golem Effect can be very hard to break, and one where relentlessly shared positive beliefs and expectations are key to turning it around. Evidence shows that if you have consistently high expectations of students and you demonstrate them yourself, then achievement, potential and positive behaviours increase. A way to rewrite that cycle is through the Pygmalion Effect:

> a student misbehaves >
(action towards others)
> Teachers deal with the incident positively to understand the cause >
(impact on others beliefs)
> Teachers maintain a positive focus on the expectations >
(impact on others actions)
> Student decides ‘this teachers cares about me and what I do, so I’ll prove them right’ >
(others beliefs fulfilled in actions)
> student thinks twice about misbehaving and the impact it has on others >
… and the cycle continues...

It takes a strong school culture to be able to wipe clean all those prior experiences and maintain a positive focus and drive of high expectations, especially when the student keeps returning to their prior behaviours. However, if we are aware of it and its positive impacts, then surely it can only have a positive impact on the outcomes of our students, by consistently demonstrating positivity in our actions and our beliefs.

Be careful...
One reason that cultures sometimes fall into the Golem effect is through the path of least resistance and which side loses energy or interest first. For example, evidence shows that, when applied relentlessly, the Pygmalion Effect can have great impacts on outcomes for staff and students, however, if the energy of the staff body to persistently maintain a positive approach towards occasions when it’s required falls, then so do perceptions of students and their outcomes. The old cheesy phrase of “reach for the stars and if you fall short you’ll land on a cloud” could sing quite true to this.

Thank you for reading

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