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  • Darren Gold

The Power of Expectation

Our expectations of others can have a significant impact. But it is self-expectation that makes the biggest difference. So much of your joy, satisfaction, and results in life are derivative of the beliefs you hold about your own potential.

One of my favorite movies was the 1988 film Stand and Deliver. It depicts the real-life story of Jaime Escalante who became famous for teaching AP calculus to hundreds of students at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, a socio-economically challenged school where calculus had never before been taught. It’s obvious to anyone who has seen the movie or read the 1983 book Escalante: The Best Teacher in America that Escalante is an extremely gifted educator. But perhaps what stands out most is his unequivocal belief in the potential of his students. It is this unwavering expectation of his students that is the source of their incredible accomplishments.

The phenomenon of expectation in education was first studied by psychologist Robert Rosenthal. In one landmark study, Rosenthal randomly separated a class of elementary students into two groups, telling the teacher that the students in the first group had tested as gifted, which of course wasn’t true given that the selection process had been conducted randomly. Nevertheless, at the end of the year, the students in the first group achieved significantly higher learning gains. The study concluded that it was the teacher’s belief in the greater potential of the students in that group that accounted for the difference in learning outcomes. Such is the power of expectation.

We hold beliefs about the potential of so many people in our lives – our children, friends, co-workers. Most of these expectations are subconscious and thus unexamined. And, like Jaime Escalante and the elementary school teacher in Rosenthal’s study, our expectations of others can have a significant impact. But it is self-expectation that makes the biggest difference. So much of your joy, satisfaction, and results in life are derivative of the beliefs you hold about your own potential. Even a subtle shift in these beliefs can have a profound effect.

Take a moment right now and think about your day and week ahead. What expectations do you have of yourself? Where are you selling yourself short? And what about your expectations of others? If Jaime Escalante could convince himself that he could teach hundreds to believe in themselves, imagine what you could do if you held the same level of expectation of yourself and those you love and lead.

Tuesday Tips

  1. For insights into what has and continues to shape President Biden’s worldview, and thus his politics, David Brooks’ latest column is excellent.

  2. Two of my favorite past times – reading and NBA basketball – are captured in this great interview of former NBA star Chris Bosh, in which he shares his love of reading and his book recommendations.

  3. A Zen proverb I returned to this week: “He who has a hundred miles to walk should reckon ninety as half the journey.”

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