When psychology teacher Michael Sullivan was in high school, one of his teachers invariably gave him an A on his assignments. Sullivan’s friend wasn’t so
lucky. In fact, he was convinced that the teacher would give him
a C no matter what he did.
To test that hypothesis, Sullivan wrote a paper and let his
friend copy it: Sullivan got an A, his friend a C.
“I had so many teachers and coaches whose whole style was
labeling kids,” says Sullivan, who considers himself lucky that
teachers thought of him as a “smart jock.” “And those labels just
Sullivan has never forgotten the lesson. “So much of how
humans perform is about their expectations of themselves and
the expectations of those around them,” says Sullivan, who teaches
Advanced Placement (AP) psychology at Hopkinton High School
in Hopkinton, Massachusetts. “If teachers believe kids can’t do
something, so often it just becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Sullivan’s belief in the power of teachers’ expectations of
their students is backed by psychological science. It ranks as
Principle 11 of the “Top 20 Principles from Psychology for
PreK– 12 Teaching and Learning” (see “ 20 key principles for
teaching and learning” on page 55 for more information and
a list of the principles). Developed by APA’s Coalition for
Psychology in Schools and Education, the document translates
the science of teaching and learning into practical information
educators can use to learn more about thinking and
learning, motivation, social and emotional factors, classroom
management and assessment.
The Monitor spoke with Sullivan and several other teachers
who embody those principles in their teaching.
Meet five PreK– 12 teachers who put psychological
science to work in their classrooms.
By Rebecca A. Clay