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The Galatea Effect

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“Set your classroom expectations high, the higher the better.  Expect the most fantastic things to happen, not in the future, but right now!”  – Robert John Meehan

Have you ever heard of the Galatea Effect?  It is the phenomenon by which people with high expectations are led to high levels of achievement and performance.  Let me tell you the story behind this phenomenon’s name.

You see Pygmalion was a talented sculptor who had become disheartened with women.  After several amorous disappointments, he declared females to be flawed creatures unworthy of his time.  He threw himself into his work and began creating a beautiful lifelike statue from pure ivory – ironically – a statue of a woman.  Perhaps his masterpiece was an attempt to correct the flaws of human women through the beautiful design of his perfect creation.  Whatever his motivation, Pygmalion worked so diligently that he created the most beautiful creature he had ever seen – living or art form – and named her Galatea.  When the caress of his hammer and chisel stopped, his love for her continued to grow.  He would bring her gifts, profess his undying love, and she grew more beautiful with each passing day.  Sadly, Pygmalion had fallen deeply in love with the one woman who could never love him in return.  This great passion did not go unnoticed by the Greek goddess of love.  Aphrodite was impressed by Pygmalion’s dedication and was inspired by the growth she had observed in Galatea.  Galatea was beginning to believe in herself and was flourishing.  Aphrodite decided to fan the spark that was already growing inside Galatea and brought her to life – Pygmalion married his true love – and the two lived together happily.

This story is rooted in Greek mythology, but we can make some classroom connections.  Expectations – especially self-expectations – are powerful.  When we empower students to believe in themselves, we harness a powerful tool.  High expectations increase one’s feelings of positive self-worth – these feelings increase the “can do” attitude that can improve the desire and confidence to achieve. The beginning of the school year is the perfect time to set the tone for great expectations.  Students enter our classrooms with open minds, eagerly awaiting a glimpse of our expectations for their achievement.  How do we transfer the power?

  • Hold high expectations.
  • Present them clearly.
  • Set the table for students to take on the responsibility for their learning.
  • Guide the process while allowing students to explore and move forward.
  • Redirect when needed.
  • Celebrate success and look at mistakes as opportunities for growth.
  • Be that positive voice of belief and conviction that encourages learning.

Like Pygmalion, we do have a hand in the process, but the goal is for our students to learn and flourish and become who they were created to be.  As our students enter our classrooms, let us set the stage for learning.  Let us empower them, inspire them, and help them rise to their own high expectations and grow.

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