I’m currently reading a very interesting book entitled Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior.
It’s full of great insights into the way we think and behave, but it can also be highly disturbing from the point of view of an educator.
One thing that is particularly disturbing is dubbed the chameleon effect. To summarize one of the studies, it was found that when instructors were given a rating of the potential of a student before the class began. Even though it was a randomly generated number, the students with higher scores did better in the final exams.
The teacher’s impression of the student translated into higher scores for students who had been given a higher random number and lower scores for students with lower generated numbers.
The authors note that
We’re constantly sending and receiving cues and subtle messages to and from one another — swaying and being swayed, even if our rational brain hasn’t been let in on the secret. As this study illustrates, we can’t help but take on the characteristics others ascribe to us.
So what are the implications for this in a classroom? Well, first we should ask ourselves what characteristics are we ascribing to our students?
Our view of students will directly influence their behavior, so are we ascribing positive or negative markers?
How many self-fulfilling classrooms have we established?
More importantly, what can we do about it?
One thing we can do is stop the negativity before it starts. Comments about how bad a certain type of student is only sets up your colleagues to have the same view as you.
Before you go into the classroom, put yourself in a positive frame of mind, remind yourself that your students are intelligent lively energetic human beings, and if you view them as such, they will respond to it and you can work the chameleon effect to your advantage.
I work in English language teaching and I have a little mantra “Lacking of English skill is not the same as Lacking Intelligence“.
I remind myself daily that skills can be acquired and that I too am constantly learning new skills. I will always believe my students can succeed, and surprise me with the growth in their ability. I also believe that every student has a desire to communicate and use language. My job is to encourage that desire.
Oddly enough, these beliefs have been borne out by my students and by my classes.
I’d like to leave you with a question.
The truly great teachers in the world are the ones who reach students no one else can. Are they truly great because they can reach those students or do they just believe that those students want to be reached?