As I started researching this topic I couldn't help but think of my own personal life experiences in addition to my experiences as an educator. The Pygmalion Effect, which was coined the term after a case study in 1968 by Rosenthal and Jacobsen (reference) basically states that you perform according to expectations.
I think that a lot of times it may depend on the person placing the expectations on you and the relationship you have with the person. In this particular study the students ranged from 1st to 6th grade, but the biggest difference was with the younger students (reference). As a kindergarten teacher, I feel my students do try very hard to please their teacher. I also feel that sometimes people (teachers, parents, support staff) lower expectations for younger students because they aren't sure what they can accomplish. I find myself saying a lot that they are capable of more than we give them credit for...just give them a chance. I do try to have high expectations for all my students, not only with academics, but also with behavior. I didn't read much about behavior as I was researching this topic, but if we assume a child is going to misbehave or be a problem child, then generally they end up fulfilling your expectation. I think we need to go into any situation with a clean slate and assume the very best out of everyone. I have had a couple of classroom instances where a child has transferred to my class from another school or district due to issues and the issues were non existent once the expectation was removed. I am not sure this is always the case, but I feel a lot of times the problem is not just with the student.
As a parent of a daughter in high school I often see the expectations we place on older students as well. High performing students are encouraged to do more, are sometimes graded harder and also encouraged to take more challenging classes. I think sometimes the students that appear not as motivated are also not encouraged and therefore struggle through classes. We should try to encourage and motivate all students and not let anything be an excuse to let a student just get through.
I remember watching the movie "She's All That" that was released in 1999. The movie was adapted from a play "Pygmalion" and a 1964 film "My Fair Lady." I haven't seen the play or the '64 film, but enjoyed watching "She's All That" as a college student and feel that it is exactly what this topic is about. In the movie a very popular, attractive, soccer star is dealing with the break-up from his very popular, attractive girlfriend and boasting to his buddy that she is replaceable by ANY girl. The buddy disagrees and they make a bet on whether or not he can turn ANY girl into a homecoming queen. The buddy gets to choose the girl and chooses an extremely nerdy, unpopular and seemingly unattractive girl. It takes some attention, a make-over and some newly found popularity, but she does in fact get nominated for prom queen.
We all too often live up to our expectations and our students also do that. In our society, we expect people to act and behave a certain way and a lot of times it is based on their economic status or race or gender, which is not always fair to stereotype. Does this expectation of behavior determine more than it should? We should make sure our expectations are always set high and that we don't assume anything, which is often easier said than done. (reference)