Tell me if these statements sound familiar to you: “Johnny will never understand how to divide with fractions.” “Andre scored a Level 1 on his test last year…we really need to focus on the students we can move to proficiency.” “Victoria doesn’t even know how to write a sentence. There’s no way she’ll ever write a paragraph.”
If these sound familiar, you are probably used to hearing defeatist attitudes in education. Sometimes, I tell my students that whether they believe they can or they can’t, they’re right. It’s called a self-fulfilling prophecy. So, if we go into our classrooms with preconceived notions of what our students can (or can’t) do, we’ll more than likely fulfill that prophecy.
Why is it important to beware of the self-fulfilling prophecy?
As an educator, you influence your students more than most people in their lives. If you do not believe in your students and they don’t believe in themselves, you have now doubled the impact of learned helplessness. Children are smart and they know when we’re sincere and when we’re not. Think about how much enthusiasm you feel when talking to someone you really hit it off with and then compare that to how much enthusiasm you feel when talking to someone you have to work with but don’t really like. With the first person, you can compliment them, provide them with meaningful feedback, and even enjoy small talk with. With the second person, you can compliment them, but you will lack enthusiasm and force a pasted-on smile, and you get away as quickly as possible. Take that situation and apply it to your classroom.
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