Once upon a time there was a young schoolteacher, who was very excited about starting his first job, with a class of second graders, in an inner city school.  Before he met his class, he looked through the class records, hoping to find out a little bit about each child’s potential for achievement.  He was surprised and delighted to find that, in the class register, all pupils had a number between 120 and 140 written after their names.

“Goodness what high IQ scores!” he thought.  “Aren’t I lucky to be starting my career with such amazing children?  I’ll bet that they are very hard workers.”  He happily sat down to plan a stimulating first week for his clever students.

At the end of the week, he was delighted to write in his teaching journal, that the class showed every sign of living up to his high expectations.  An exciting year ensued as the children rose to his every challenge.

As parents and teaching staff heaped praise on him, for his outstanding teaching ability, he took the opportunity to meet with the Head to thank him for the opportunity to teach such high achieving students in his very first year.

The Head replied, “Congratulations!  You really are having an outstanding first year.  What is your secret?  As far as I’m concerned, these were all average first graders last year.  What made you think that they were so brilliant, in the first place?”

“Well they all had high IQ scores written after their names, in the attendance register.”

The Head burst out laughing. “Those weren’t anything to do with IQ, they were just their locker numbers!”

This may seem like an apocryphal story and perhaps it is, but there is more to high expectations than meets the eye.

Back in the 80s, the psychologist Dov Eden, demonstrated what has become to be known as the Pygmalion effect.  Out of the group of young Israeli military recruits he selected a handful of new soldiers and informed their commanders that they had the potential for high achievement.  In fact, over the next three months, they performed between 9 and 10 percent better than their peers.  What interests me, is that these soldiers weren’t specially gifted.  In fact, Eden had selected them totally at random and their reactions, to the enhanced opinions of their officers, did the rest.

Only recently, I met a  gentleman who is a remarkable expert on human potential.  He was the only child, of an ordinary working class family.  His parents loved him dearly, but instead of spoiling him with empty praise, they showed that they believed in his potential.  If one of his father’s friends came to him with a problem, he would say,

“Oh, I don’t know about that.  Let my son think about it for a bit.  He’ll work out a solution for you.”

By rising to his father’s perception, of his potential to work things out, he has become a multi millionaire, through sorting out other people’s stumbling blocks.

There is remarkable power in believing that children have potential for high achievement.  The the magic word is “potential,” which for me, has connotations of focus and hard work.  Every child has a potential for high achievement, but many children are taught that success is a gift for the few.  When you believe in the power of potential, beginners’ mistakes are treated as what they are, launching pads for success, not insurmountable obstacles.  Success is inevitable, not a lucky fluke.  The big question is, can we remember to encourage them to believe in their capacity to focus and work towards success?

Nowadays, I only teach children with potential for high achievement.

Every child can!

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