Five Special Effects To Help Teachers In The Classroom



A little bit of psychology inspired by  my recent  iTDi webinar.  This  can help teachers to manage classes and learning outcomes  in online, blended learning and traditional classroom situations.


1) The Pygmalion Effect:



Teacher belief plays a huge role when it comes to influencing learner outcomes.

Let’s look at the theory of the Pygmalion effect and consider how we can use it to our advantage in the classroom.

“This idea derives from ancient Greek myth in which Pygmalion sculpted an image of a beautiful woman whom he named Galatea. The image was striking, so striking in fact that Pygmalion fell in love with it, and he began to imagine wonderful attributes for this image. His love for Galatea became so great that the gods heard, and Galatea was transformed into a real woman with all the wonderful attributes that Pygmalion imagined her to have.”

Believing is seeing


Transformative Education

How can we transform education by transforming our attitudes?

How does this ancient Greek myth play out in the reality of classroom life?

How great is your love for teaching and learning, fulfilling potential and making life worth living?

Can you love something without believing in it?

Can you love someone without believing in that someone?

Think back over your teaching life and remember students who did well and those who didn’t do so well.

Could there have been a self-fulfilling prophecy at work based on first impressions, parent beliefs, levels of student confidence and, finally, your own predictions?



Promise and lack, thereof:

One of the most common words I ever heard or saw on report cards as a child was ‘promising’. The fact that teachers use the word ‘promising’ so often is proof that we make predictions about students ability all of the time. In fact we are expected to do so, parents ask us to do so.

Can we believe in our students and be ‘realistic’ at the same time?

Is it realistic to label students before they have a chance to play in the zone of proximal development?

Actually, according Lev Vygotsky, “The zone of proximal development defines functions that have not matured yet, but are in a process of maturing, that will mature tomorrow, that are currently in an embryonic state; these functions could be called the buds of development, the flowers of development, rather than the fruits of development, that is, what is only just maturing”

We can no more define potential than we can define the perfect teaching method.

But we can create the conditions for creative play and personalised learning, where each child is special.

Nick Michelioudakis has written much about ELT & Psychology, and places particular emphasis on these psychological ‘effects’ in his work. This make my task here a little easier and I’ll add some references to the end of this article. Nick presents his ideas for TESOL Greece all over the world and is spear-heading radical changes in the ELT mindset – changes that are extremely welcome to those of us who recognise the need for this sea-change in education.

For now, here’s a quote:


“Applications in the field of ELT:  The principle here is very straightforward: if we can make students (ss) feel that we look upon them as individuals rather as yet another person in the class they will perform better and they will like us more.  Here are some ideas of how we can do this:”

(see article in ‘each child is special’ link)

Nick Michelioudakis

As teachers, it shouldn’t be hard to think of how we can make our students feel special and really mean it. The whole point is that when we believe in their learning potential, the fact that each child is different and special, and let their learning unfold creatively, then the Pygmalion Effect can work wonders for us.

The Pygmalion Effect & the open classroom – open minds and open environments.

According to Dimitris Primalis, a leading innovator in ELT  through technology, change and creative skills-building:

Open learning spaces are classrooms where the seating arrangement is flexible to accommodate different forms of interaction and even co-teaching with other classes. it is ideal for presentations and encouraging communication and collaboration. there are no fixed walls and the basic concept is openness to learning and sharing.”

Dimitris Primalis

Here’s an image of Dimitris using football to teach English in an open classroom environment:




What else do you get when you think of environment, beliefs, personalisation and nurturing special talents?

You get the Human Touch by Vicky Loras, of course. Vicky’s human touch series has touched the hearts and minds of teachers all over the world and she has been featured as a keynote speaker at TESOL events and online MOOCs throughout 2014, including the recent iTDi MOOC.

Another amazing professional who impressed me last year was Malu Sciamarelli, who initiated the Kindness project. This has also been featured all over the world through various conferences.


From environment to mindset:


Apart from environment and techniques, how do we ‘train’ ourselves to believe in students who haven’t ‘proven‘ their ability?

By acknowledging the FACT that all students are special and learn in their own ways, we can overcome the initial cognitive dissonance where lack of performance seems to clash with the belief in future potential. Instead of seeing the results and then believing, we’ve got to be responsible, understand human nature based on psychological insights, and stop putting the cart before the horse.

2) The Pratfall Effect:

“In social psychology, the pratfall effect is the tendency for attractiveness to increase or decrease after an individual makes a mistake, depending on the individual’s perceived competence, or ability to perform well in a general sense. A perceived competent individual would be, on average, more likable after committing a blunder, while the opposite would occur if a perceived average person makes a mistake.”


When we believe in our students, they become confident. When they are already confident, then their mistakes can make them more attractive to their classmates, themselves and their teachers.

I believe that there could be a whole new study of the psychology of mistakes and learning – most definitely, a whole new article;)

What can YOU do to channel mistakes for further creativity, further confidence-building, inspiring social cohesion in the classroom, and deeper learning outcomes?

I will develop this in a future article- for now please think, comment below and/or discuss this on your social networks.  I can even make it easy for you with this Tackk social flyer I prepared especially for the occasion;)

3) The bystander effect.

“The bystander effect, or bystander apathy, is a social psychological phenomenon that refers to cases in which individuals do not offer any means of help to a victim when other people are present. The probability of help is inversely related to the number of bystanders. In other words, the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that any one of them will help. Several variables help to explain why the bystander effect occurs.”


In a previous article I discussed ‘happy classrooms and the problem of bullying in schools’. I featured a video showing how bystanders just watch children being bullied in schools and do nothing about it. The video also shows what happens when we mentally snap out of this socially contagious hypnosis.

To read more about how transformative teaching and mindsets can overcome bullying read this article.

The video itself shows firstly how people witness the bullying from a distance and ignore it and then shows how this witnessing transforms into ‘noticing‘ and making ones presence felt so that the bully is now in the spotlight as opposed to being part of a distracting environment that people try to filter out.

The main thing here for us to learn is that we may be hard-wired to ignore the needs of individual students due to the perverse influence of socially contagious inertia (see Goleman; social intelligence)

Once we are aware of this we can actively find ways to promote caring and social responsibility within our group and class dynamics, as well as within the whole school and within staff relationships.

4) The Spotlight Effect:

“The spotlight effect is the phenomenon in which people tend to believe they are noticed more than they really are”.


This effect can hamper the development of shy students and make our students, and especially teenagers, extremely self-conscious. Creating environments, tasks and creative role-playing situations can help students to overcome this effect.

Acting helps students to go beyond themselves and become part of a new persona and helps to bond students together. I believe that drama, art, other socially-intelligent activities can help students to love the spotlight and become stars of their own shows.

5) The Snowball Effect:

This powerful effect can make you or break you.

This is where small beginnings build upon themselves and create their own momentum.

How can you leverage the snowball effect in class?

Well, this is where it gets very interesting. There can be no momentum without personalisation, recognising that each child is special, or without the  freedom to create and share in a safe environment.

By positively harnessing the power of the previous four effects you get a powerfully transformative snowball effect – by ignoring  all of the above you’ll still get a snowball effect – but it won’t be pretty;)

By not thinking, planning, focusing or sharing ideas about these effects in school,  you might begin to feel stuck, with no momentum, no progress, just daily stress and lots of social problems.

I’ll leave you with the slideshow of my iTDi presentation, which covered these topics and more.

Here is the link to the presentation.


Here’s the psychology article collection that I often refer to in my research:

Michelioudakis, N, ELT & Psychology

Sylvia Guinan

is an online English teacher, writer and blogger who facilitates professional development online. She uses brain-friendly techniques to help students and teachers around the world. She designs educational materials, develops courses, writes resource papers and publishes ebooks. Her work is the result of much research into the psychology of learning, as well as hands-on experience with multi-media technology.

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