Zig Ziglar shares an insightful story of a classroom filled with boys who had become such a discipline problem that no one could handle them.
They had behaved so badly that they had driven away seven teachers in six weeks. Finally, the principal in desperation called on a retired teacher — an elderly lady who had years of experience and a formidable reputation — and asked if she would consider taking the class for a short time until he could resolve the problem.
The old lady was excited by the challenge. “I’ve always loved boys. Let me teach them,” she said. “I can start on Monday.” The principal was surprised and delighted by her enthusiasm. But then, in all fairness, he explained that the problems in the schools had escalated since she retired some ten years before. Perhaps, he suggested, if he hired a guard to stand in the back of the room, she would be able to handle the classroom temporarily.
“Let me look at that roster,” the teacher challenged him. “I’ve always liked boys. Always worked well with them.” She read the list — John Anderson, 156; Tom Brown, 145; Joe Carter, 147 — and so forth. She was excited by what she “saw.” The principal didn’t understand her excitement, but he was grateful to have found someone for the class.
The new teacher refused his offer for an armed guard. She assured him that she’d never had any discipline problems with any of her students. So, the principal said that she could try the class alone for a little while.
By the end of the semester, it was obvious that all was going well. The boys stopped skipping school. They did their homework, and they scored several points higher on their achievement tests than any of their peers in the other classrooms. The year was so successful that the parents, the other teachers, and the boys, gathered for an end-of-the-year banquet in honour of the elderly teacher.
After dinner, the testimonials began. Everyone stood up to praise the old lady. They marvelled at her success and the boys’ progress in a situation where everyone else had given up. After a few complimentary speeches, the old lady stood up and demanded to speak. “I do appreciate all of this honour,” she said. “But we’ve heard enough about me. The real praise should go to the principal. He was wise enough to put all of those gifted young men in the same room where they could learn from each other. I knew the moment I read the class roster — John Anderson, 156; Tom Brown, 145; Joe Carter, 147 — I would never have another opportunity to work with students with such high IQ’s.”
The embarrassed principal didn’t know what to say. He mumbled to the teacher, “Didn’t I tell you? Those numbers by their names were not their IQ’s. Those were their locker numbers.” The numbers could just as well have been the boys’ IQ’s. After all, that’s how the teacher “saw” them. The teacher treated the boys as if they were super-intelligent, and the boys performed accordingly. She got what she expected.
This phenomenon plays out in business and sometimes referred to as the ‘Pygmalion Effect’. Essentially, what you believe about a person or team influences how they behave. What you expect impacts others behaviour. How have you experienced this in the school of life? Any lessons you can share with other leaders?
The story recounted in audio ‘The Born to Win Seminar’, Zig Ziglar on Audible.