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The Power of Expectations in Shaping Student Success – Jennifer Oaten

As the Principal of a girls’ school, stimulating the bright minds of students from Years 5 through 12, I have seen the transformative impact of belief and expectation on student outcomes.

The Pygmalion Effect, originating from psychologist Robert Rosenthal’s experiments, revealed that expectations influenced the success of rats in mazes.

This demonstrates how our expectations profoundly influence the performance and achievement of those around us. Our expectations can mould the academic journey of our students with expectations we have in place impacting their performance.

It suggests that people tend to perform better when they are treated as if they are capable of achieving greatness. When teachers or parents have faith in their students’ potential, these students are more likely to exceed expectations.

High Expectations and Success

In the realm of girls’ education, we are not just educators; we are architects of future leaders, innovators, and change-makers. It is crucial to challenge stereotypes and biases that might limit our students. By establishing expectations of what young women are capable of, we empower our students to believe in themselves and succeed, especially in diverse fields such as STEM, technology, or trades, where women are often underrepresented.

So, how can we integrate this thinking into our educational approaches? It begins with awareness, acknowledging biases and ensuring they don’t sway our expectations. We must convey belief and confidence in our students’ abilities, not only through words but also through our actions and nonverbal cues. Nurturing a growth mindset is paramount, reinforcing the notion that skills can be developed through commitment and effort. Just because students can’t do it now does not mean they can’t do it.

Expectations are more than just about achieving good results. We have expectations that students will do their best, expectations of the way we treat others, expectations of being brave to try, and expectations that everyone can be successful at something.

If we have high expectations of our students, articulate this, and ensure that students understand this, it can build self belief in them.

Self Belief and Success

Self belief is a silent force that often goes unnoticed in our lives and holds immense power over our successes. The unwavering confidence in oneself, the belief that one can overcome challenges, and the conviction that success is within reach is something that young women often need.

Self-belief serves as the cornerstone upon which academic success is built. It’s the driving force that propels students to set ambitious goals, persist in the face of adversity, and strive for excellence. When students believe in their abilities, they are more likely to adopt a growth mindset, viewing challenges as opportunities for growth rather than insurmountable obstacles.

Building Self Belief

Our mission goes beyond the classroom walls. The home environment plays a crucial role in nurturing self-belief and ambition. We welcome parents to join us on this journey, fostering high expectations and providing support at home. The synergy between home and school environments can significantly enhance the positive impact of our efforts to develop young people who believe in themselves and what they are capable of.

In partnering with parents, we can:

  1. Share Positive Affirmations: Encourage young people to have positive self-talk and affirmations that boost their self-worth and capabilities. Parents can lead by example, using positive language about themselves and their children.
  2. Set Realistic Goals: Help young people set achievable yet challenging goals. Assist them in breaking these goals into manageable steps and celebrate their small wins, fostering a sense of accomplishment and growth.
  3. Encourage Perseverance: Teach young people that setbacks and failures are part of learning. Encourage them to persist and learn from mistakes rather than giving up, emphasising that effort and resilience lead to success.
  4. Provide Constructive Feedback: Offer feedback focusing on effort and improvement, not just results. This helps kids understand that growth and learning are ongoing processes.
  5. Model Lifelong Learning: Demonstrate a commitment to your growth and learning. Young people are more likely to adopt the same behaviours when they see their parents engaging in new learning experiences with a positive attitude and not being afraid to try new things.
  6. Foster Independence: Allow young people to make choices. This independence can boost their self-esteem and decision-making skills, which are essential for self-belief and ambition.

By implementing these practices, parents can create a supportive and empowering home environment, helping young people to develop the self belief and the ambition needed to reach their full potential.

As educators, we have the power to spark potential and inspire achievement. The Pygmalion Effect is more than just a concept; it demonstrates how our beliefs shape our students’ realities. Let us commit to setting high expectations for all students, watching them rise to the challenge, and celebrating as they turn those expectations into accomplishments.

I encourage each of you – teachers, parents, students – to reflect on the expectations you have for yourself and others. Let us engage in open discussions on how we can collectively create an environment where every student feels believed in. Together, we can unleash the immense potential within our students, propelling them towards a future full of possibilities.

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