Changing Teacher Expectations by Changing Teacher Behaviors

You may be familiar with the 1968 Pygmalion in the Classroom study in which Robert Rosenthal found that teachers’ expectations of their students’ performance affects the students’ actual performance in that classroom. (Read about the study at .)

Teachers’ Expectations Can Influence How Students Perform, a recent  (8 ½ minute_ National Public Radio Morning Edition podcast, (also transcribed as printed text) references and updates this study; Robert Pianta, Dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia,  “has studied teachers for years, and [told the interviewer, Alix Speigel] that it is truly hard for teachers to control their expectations.”

Spiegel continues, “But Pianta has a different idea of how to go about changing teachers’ expectations. He says it’s not effective to try to change their thoughts; the key is to train teachers in an entirely new set of behaviors.”

“Pianta and his colleagues recently did a study. They took a group of teachers, assessed their beliefs about children, then gave a portion of them a standard pedagogy course, which included information about appropriate beliefs and expectations. Another portion got intense behavioral training, which taught them a whole new set of skills based on those appropriate beliefs and expectations.”

“For this training, the teachers videotaped their classes over a period of months and worked with personal coaches who watched those videos, then gave them recommendations about different behaviors to try.”

“After that intensive training, Pianta and his colleagues analyzed the beliefs of the teachers again. What he found was that the beliefs of the trained teachers had shifted way more than the beliefs of teachers given a standard informational course.”

“This is why Pianta thinks that to change beliefs, the best thing to do is change behaviors.”

You can hear or read the whole interview at

Do teacher expectations research findings for teachers of children apply to teachers of adults?  Is it time for the Rosenthal study, or another study of teachers’ expectations of their students, to be done with teachers of adult learners?

David J. Rosen

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