“Pygmalion in the staff room: how the manager’s expectations affect the development of the staff’’ – Part A

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In our daily lives we all jump to conclusions. People make an impression on us based on the assumptions we make about their skills and abilities.

More often than not the assumptions we make affect the way we behave towards these people, thus making our ‘’prophecies’’ self-fulfilling.

Pygmalion in the classroom by Rosenthal and Jacobson

In 1966 Rosenthal and Jacobson carried out a research at the Oak Primary School, an area inhabited by low-income families, some of them Mexican some of them American.

The two psychologists gave pupils an IQ test without revealing the true reason for their research to the teachers. When they had the test results, they informed the teachers about them.

They didn’t tell the truth, though. They told teachers that the pupils with high IQ were those with lower IQ and vice versa.

The findings were really interesting because some months later when the IQ tests were re-administered, the pupils with the supposedly ‘’lower’’ IQ (who were the intelligent ones) scored a lower IQ, whereas the pupils with the low IQ scored higher than before. What had changed?

The expectancy advantage, which is the term Rosenthal uses to describe the increased expectations teachers have towards their students which consequently creates a more positive attitude towards them .


Maria Sachpazian BA education / RSA dip/tefl (hons)


From the classroom to the staff room

You might wonder what the connection is between the above-mentioned research and school management. I think there is an underlying analogy we ought to highlight. 

School owners are often “accused” of being more attached to their teaching role than to the business one. One business aspect, though, that school owners ought to excel in is Human Resource management, as this is related to their teaching style.


As teachers school owners are leaders, facilitators and motivators.

School owners know only too well that the more a teacher believes in students, the better those students will do.

In much the same manner, if managers think that a new teacher has great potential, the way of interacting with her is positive; their body language signifies approval and closeness, so the teacher who receives these positive vibes, feels that she is trusted and long for actualizing her potential thus fulfilling the prophecy made for her.

One can argue that for the teacher to actualise potential, she ought to have had some in the first place.

The manager’s behaviour would not have given her what she lacked. Then again, think of how many times we have attributed our failure to lack of support by our peers or colleagues or to the fact that those near and dear to us did not believe in us.

All these are connected with self fulfilling prophecies and they point out the incredibly important role expectations play in our professional life.

Communicating innermost thoughts 

Low expectations cannot be hidden. When managers do not trust their staff, they tend to micro-manage. By that we mean that they check every aspect of their work, and they eventually end up doing the work themselves.

Then they complain about the utterly useless staff they have employed and the money they waste on them, completely forgetting that good managers are not those who do everything perfectly by themselves but the ones who give chances for improvement to their employees.

Another upshot of the expectancy advantage is expectancy disadvantage. This means that when we do not believe in certain people, we tend not to expect anything from them. We perceive them as a burden and a waste of time because much like children they need to be told what to do and do not take initiatives and risks.

In these cases managers become abrupt and their behaviour borders on rudeness, which is extremely demotivating for the staff, as every teacher knows.

Moreover, expectancy disadvantage gives rise to double standards since the way some staff members are treated is different from the way managers behave to other members, based on his/her expectations.

Much like the teachers in the Rosenthal/ Jacobson experiment were carried away by the initial facts they were given, managers tend to be driven by the impression they have of their staff and manage them based on this.

The question is ‘do they really know their staff?’ Has the staff been given chances for improvement and development?


Reaction formation

When students have had many negative experiences from various schools and teachers, they end up rejecting all schools and teachers as useless. Actually these students exhibit the very behaviour that is expected of them.

They seem to be telling us that if we think they are hopeless losers they will behave as such.

The cause of this behaviour is that the students have been disappointed so many times, that they do not want to invest on yet another teacher, only to be disappointed again because this teacher will never have any expectations of them nor believed in them.

Much like those disappointed students, teachers exhibit reaction formation too.

If teachers feel that the school administration does not value them, they don’t value the school either. Valuing others is a two way street and we cannot expect to be appreciated by those we do not appreciate.

If teachers are made to feel “lacking” and “limited”, they will soon perform as limited to the detriment of the school, its students and its future sales.

This will trigger a vicious circle, as the staff which was perceived as limited will bring about the negative consequences the manager thought it would.

Once again, self-fulfilling prophecies can take over once we let them. What the staff does is inextricably related with what the school administration does to guide and support the teacher.

Therefore, to have a better staff, we must have better administration.

More issues
This month’s article does not end with a conclusion. It just poses more questions. Why is hiring and firing in our field so hastily done and never based on actual data that can derive from observations, appraisals or the teacher’s professional portfolio?

Finally, why would managers who run their own businesses end up working with people they do not hold in esteem? And what can be done to change this situation? These will be answered in November’s column.

Maria Sachpazian BA education / RSA dip/tefl (hons) is the Academic and Managing Director of Input on Education a company which provides academic, business support and consultancy to Foreign Language Schools. She is also an educational management specialist who has worked as a teacher trainer and materials’ developer. Maria works as an EFL teacher at the Straight Up Markoyannopoulou schools. www.input.edu.gr / This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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