The Power of Believing

Treat a man as he is and you make him worse than he is. Treat a man as he has the potential to become and you make him better than he is. —Goethe

After many discussions with teachers all over the world regarding moving schools forward, I often keep coming back to the thought that if we really want to further education, we need to increase the expectations of our students. The idea that if we look deeply at our students, we will be able to find some amazing qualities and that our students can be leaders in areas that they love. I love the “Cracker Jack” analogy that if we look at each student enough, we will always be able to find the “prize” inside of each one.

This does not mean that all students are going to be the “boss” or own their own companies, but that their passions, strengths, and love for what they do can shine through and inspire others. It is essential that as we push education to get better, we need to expect more from our students:

“Simply put, when teachers expect students to do well and show intellectual growth, they do; when teachers do not have such expectations, performance and growth are not so encouraged and may in fact be discouraged in a variety of ways. In the famous Oak School experiment, teachers were led to believe that certain students selected at random were likely to be showing signs of a spurt in intellectual growth and development. At the end of the year, the students of whom the teachers had these expectations showed significantly greater. ” Jason Rhem

Reading Peter Senge’s “FifthDiscipline”, he discusses the pygmalion effect which discusses the self-fulfilling prophecies and how often, whether they are positive or negative, can really create a cycle of success or failure. One statement that I heard this year that has really stuck out with me is the belief that you give people trust before they earn it, and they ultimately will. My experience has shown me that when we explicitly trust those that we serve, that most go above and beyond to do some amazing things.

Now does this mean that if I simply believe a student can be a leader and be successful that they simply will? Absolutely not as they still will need to put in the effort to achieve those qualities. I do however believe that if we don’t put this belief in our students in the first place, their chances of attaining these qualities lessen. You often hear those stories of students that dld amazing things in their lives in spite of their teachers, not because of them. I do not want to be one of those stories.

Yes it may be a little idealistic, but I would rather put that strong belief in our students and push them to do better. Like I said earlier, the expectation needs to be much higher for our students. Believing that they can reach this expectation is only the first step, but I think a necessary one.


  1. It’s so important to give trust to those kids who “deserve” it the least. Some students are so used to being cast as the liar, the cheat, or the miscreant that any question immediately puts them on the defensive. Giving them opportunities to prove their trustworthiness, extending that trust in the first place, can help them lower their guard enough to reinvent themselves. My favorite thing to say to a kid who acts up and then tells me “Haven’t you heard about me?” is: “No. I don’t know your history, so you can be who you choose to be in my classroom. I have no reason not to trust you unless you give me one.”

    June 9, 2011
  2. This is a great post. it relates, I think, not only to teaching but also to the right way to approach others in general. There is a quotation whose source I don’t recall to the effect that “My blood is no redder than yours.” In context, it was a call remiding us that one life is no more precious than another and that the spiritual, intellectual and physical welfare of all people must be of equal concern.

    June 13, 2011
  3. I believe that the power of expectations works throughout all of the dimensions of our life – school, work, home, etc. During my career, I had the opportunity to work with Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s. He was adamant about the power of having high expectations and setting high standards. He told me and other managers that if we set our standards low for our staff, then we will get low results. If we set our standards high for our staff, and truly believed in their innate capacity to achieve high results – that we had a greater chance of achievement. When we truly believe in the potential of another we tend to spend more time with them – coaching and mentoring them. The high expectations that we have of another has an impact both on us and on the other person. In my role as a leader, I focus on pulling people forward – expanding their potential.

    In the past, I have been in awe of what people are capable of accomplishing if they believe in themselves. Part of helping that all to occur is the power of expectations that a leader has in that person. The leader could be a manager, a teacher, a parent, or a friend, etc. I am no longer in great awe of such results because I understand how it works and have seen it happen many times. However the process is still wonderful to see, and it is terrific to be a catalyst to the growth and development of people.

    There is a wonderful quote that I like by Goethe: “If your treat an individual… as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.”

    June 19, 2011
  4. […] to me. Most of my starred items are under the connected principals blog. My favorite by far is the Power of Believing which discusses  finding a good quality in each student and setting the bar high. If each of us […]

    June 30, 2011

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