Updated: Jan 5, 2020
Allison is a kindergarten teacher with a problem: She suspects that one of her students, Brett, is a slow learner. When she seats her students, she makes sure to seat Brett next to the other slow learners so that he’s not intimidated by the pace of faster students. When she asks a math question in class and calls on Brett, she’s not surprised when he gets it wrong. Shaking her head, she sighs and says, “It’s okay, I didn’t expect you to get that one.” She makes sure to speak more slowly and in simpler terms when speaking to Brett. After three months of class, she gives all of the students a basic assessment, and she’s not surprised to find that Brett scores near the bottom of the class.
However, what Allison didn’t know is that Brett is of completely average intelligence. Had she given him the assessment at the beginning of the year, he probably would have scored right in the middle of the class. What happened?
Allison’s belief about Brett’s intelligence created a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because she believed that he was a slow learner, she treated him like a slow learner, and because he was treated like a slow learner, Brett became a slow learner, confirming Allison’s initial belief.
But what if Allison had been told at the beginning of the year that Brett was a gifted student? She might then have seated him with the smartest kids in the class, exposed him to more mature vocabulary, and pushed him to keep up with a faster pace, possibly leading him to become a better student!
Self-fulfilling prophecies are proof of how much we can be affected by other’s expectations. They teach us that if we want someone to succeed, we should treat them like we expect them to succeed.
After all, you can do almost anything if someone really believes in you.