While attending Illinois State University and pursuing a degree in Mathematics Education, I was required to take several courses on curriculum and instruction. During one of the lectures, my professor referred to the Pygmalion effect.
This effect, named after the ancient myth of Pygmalion and his statue, can be summarized quite simply as follows: People tend to behave as you expect they will.
In 1968, two psychologists published a book entitled Pygmalion in the Classroom. This book revealed data from experiments where teachers were told that certain students showed unusual potential for intellectual growth. The names of the students were given to their teachers, though in reality, the students were of average intelligence. However, by the end of the school year, the chosen children showed significantly greater gains in IQ than the other children of average ability. Why did the randomly chosen children have significantly greater intellectual gains? The only reasonable conclusion is that the teachers, believing that these students were capable of greatness, in some way treated them differently. These teachers may have given more attention to or challenged these students to a higher level than students they believed to be average. The bottom line is that what each teacher believed about his students affected his expectations for each of them. The ones of whom great things were expected seemed to rise to the occasion.
Our professor discussed the Pygmalion effect with our class because he wanted us, soon-to-be teachers, to realize the power of our expectations to affect our students’ lives.
My purpose in discussing the Pygmalion effect today is to emphasize a simple, yet important, spiritual truth: People typically live up (or down) to our expectations of them. Admittedly, this is not an absolute truth, but we can see it true in other places besides a secular classroom.
This principle is seen in the home. If we expect great things of our children, we will more than likely encourage them continually and work to instill the necessary confidence and skills for them to be successful. If we don’t expect much of our children, we won’t do what we can to help them excel or challenge them to reach their potential–and most of them won’t. Our expectations of others can have a powerful influence for good or bad.
This principle applies even in the church. Teachers, what kind of expectations do you have for your Bible class students? Do you expect them to grow spiritually in your class? Do you communicate your expectations to them? Do you challenge them both in and out of the classroom? Or, do you think they’ll never amount to much as students of the word, and they’ll always be spiritually immature? There is a good chance they’ll prove you right, either way. And, whether you realize it or not, your expectations will affect your actions toward them for better or worse.
Our Lord once said – “All things are possible to him who believes” (Mark 9:23). It is true that Jesus spoke these words in the context of performing a miracle–specifically an exorcism. It is also true that men and women are no longer performing miracles today. Nevertheless, the principle is still true. If we genuinely believe, anything is possible via the power of God.
Friends, do you believe in others? What kind of expectations do you have for your children? What kind of expectations do you have for your students in Bible class? What kind of expectations do you have for yourself? Expectations matter–so set yours accordingly.