How to Bask in the Pygmalion Effect

By Sian May.

I am part of a strong and wide-ranging team that stretches from our Council of Governors, into our educators and professional services teams. In this network of colleagues almost every conceivable form of expertise can be found. This makes me both very fortunate and also accelerates my own professional learning, reflection and growth at every turn. I have often found myself seeking advice and guidance from a range of high performing teams on subjects ranging from Chat GPT in Science, the future of assessment, wellbeing, science and more. As I analysed our school’s success, I have started to decode the leadership and strategy behind it. 

Self-Efficacy is a Key Determinant of Our Students Success

How do you ensure that all educators have an understanding of the impact of their own beliefs? 

Ultimately when working alongside colleagues, it has become clear that those who make the most impact believe that they can and will positively impact students’ outcomes. This is not new, as Proteroe (2008), Goddard (2001) and others have explored this phenomenon at length. However, when such shared belief is scaled it produces powerful collective teacher efficacy and creates a dynamic environment in which students and educators thrive. As leaders, we want to know how to utilise this Pygmalion Effect to benefit students! 

The Pygmalion Effect can be harnessed to great effect in our schools as Jenni Donohoo’s current work on collaborative inquiry and other tools to achieve collective efficacy illustrates. 

The Pygmalion Effect

The Pygmalion Effect was exemplified in 1968, when Rosenthal and Jacobsen conducted an experiment to examine student achievement in relation to teacher expectations. Elementary school children were given an IQ test which informed their teachers which children were going to be average and which children were going to be ‘Bloomers’, the twenty percent of students who showed “unusual potential for intellectual growth”.

The study showed that teachers did not expect much from the average children and gave additional attention to the Bloomers including a nicer environment and more detailed feedback on work. However, unknown to the teachers, these students were selected randomly and may or may not have fulfilled that criteria. After eight months, they came back and retested the children’s intelligence.

The results showed that Bloomers IQ scores had risen (experimental group) significantly higher than the average students (control group), even though these academic bloomers were chosen at random. The bloomers gained an average of two IQ points in verbal ability, seven points in reasoning and four points in total IQ.

In short, the experiment showed that teacher expectations worked as a self-fulfilling prophecy. This continued knowledge (following many repetitions of similar studies) equips us to better understand the communities we wish to create. The values and beliefs teachers bring to our teams are the building foundations of our students’ experiences. We must seize on this opportunity to create teams who believe in all students’ potential, especially in an international environment when a key disposition of our teachers’ is intercultural awareness. I come back in my mind to this time and again. Our teachers’ Pygmalion beliefs enable us to create learning organisations which continually create quality experiences for our students. 

A question from Sian to our readers: How might you measure current levels of efficacy? 

Sian May is Head of School at Alice Smith School, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

To follow her on LinkedIn, Click HERE

LYIS is Proud to Partner with TIC Recruitment

1 thought on “<strong>How to Bask in the Pygmalion Effect</strong>”

  1. Great read! Thank you Sian for sharing! I can still remember how my teacher inspired me and encouraged me when I was in primary school! We can’t deny how powerful the educator’s expectations are! And I do believe, a good teaching team always has positive expectations towards students and provides quality experience for their students!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *