There’s a story – certainly one of those urban myths that deal more in meaning than historical truth – about a school that was going through some difficult times. The Head called three teachers into her office, explaining that in an effort to improve the grades they were (for one term only) siphoning off the three best teachers in the school and placing them each in charge of a class made up of the creme de la creme of students.

The term went by, and the experiment took place with no one but the Head and the three teachers knowing anything about it. At the end of it the Head called the three into her study and congratulated them on an astounding string of results. Each student had improved significantly, and the amount of effort being put into lessons by the teachers themselves had been equally improved. There were, the Head told them, just two things that she had kept to herself at the start of the term. First, the teachers had not been given the best children in the school. In fact they were made up of randomly selected pupils, completely varied in ability. The difference was that the teachers believed that the pupils were the best in the school. Second, she broke the news that neither were they the three best teachers in the school. For one term, though, all three believed that they were at the top of the pile, and that is what made the difference.

Expectation can make a huge difference, not just to our attitudes but consequently to our output and performance as well. The truth is that we seldom exceed our expectations: if we aim at nothing we’ll probably hit it. As Henry Ford (of motor car fame) so wisely put it, ‘Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re probably right.’

What do you think?

Extract from Manifesto for Life by Matt Bird (Hodder, 2001)