The Impact of High Expectations
‘To expect defeat is nine-tenths of the defeat itself’ – Henry Louis Mencken
Increasingly I have come to the conclusion that High Expectations (of students and staff) is the most important driver for school improvement. Research and experience shows that having high expectations of our children and a firm belief that they can all succeed is essential for their success.
In 1968, Robert Rosenthal, a Harvard professor, and Leonore Jacobson, an Elementary School principal, borrowed the term ‘Pygmalion effect’ from Shaw’s play to describe an experiment that they carried out in an elementary school, which the authors called Oak School, to test the hypothesis that in any given classroom there is a correlation between teachers’ expectations and students’ achievement. In the experiment, Rosenthal and Jacobson gave an intelligence test to all of the students at the school at the beginning of the school year. After the test had been completed they randomly selected 20% of the students, without any reference to their test results, and reported to the teachers that these particular students were showing “unusual potential for intellectual growth” and could be expected to “bloom” in their academic performance by the end of the year.
Eight months later, at the end of the academic year, they came back and re-tested all the students. Those that they had labelled as “ready to bloom children” showed significantly greater increase in the new tests than the other children who were not singled out for the teachers’ attention. This meant that “the change in the teachers’ expectations regarding the intellectual performance of these allegedly ‘special’ children had led to an actual change in the intellectual performance of the randomly selected children”
“You see, really and truly, apart from the things anyone can pick up (the dressing and the proper way of speaking, and so on), the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she’s treated. I shall always be a flower girl to Professor Higgins, because he always treats me as a flower girl, and always will; but I know I can be a lady to you, because you always treat me as a lady, and always will.”
George Bernard Shaw