How Can Teachers Help Students "Fail?"

Creating successful students requires that we understand the entire system that affects our students. The Fifth Discipline (Peter M. Senge), is a book which discusses how systems thinking is the only real way to create change, build growth and develop sustainability for an organization, individual or other group. The book does a brilliant job of explaining how one goes about viewing and changing systems.

One of the simplest examples sheds light on how we as teachers often contribute to a student’s decline by missing the system. A shy new, student does poorly in class (in fact, distracted by difficult home life). The teacher believes the student is unmotivated. The teacher begins to pay less attention to the student, and student pulls further away from schoolwork. The home life becomes more difficult as a result. This student is caught in a reinforcing feedback loop, and is in fact a victim of a self-fulfilling prophecy by the teacher (see diagram).

Thus, students are unintentionally “tracked” into a high self-image of their abilities, where they get personal attention, or a low self-image, where their poor class work is reinforced in an ever worsening spiral. (p. 80-81)

I regularly hear teachers and administrators (at various schools) talk about how a student won’t make it next year, yet the student will be attending the same school next year. How does our predefined judgement affect that student? Are we setting up the self-fulfilling prophecy? The end of the year often has conversations like, “see, I told you he wouldn’t make it.” Are we in fact to blame? Short answer, sometimes. We must try to shift systems by exerting small changes that cause situations to snowball in a positive direction rather than a negative one.

Educators probably also want to grab Senge’s Schools That Learn: A Fifth Discipline Fieldbook for Educators, Parents, and Everyone Who Cares About Education.

yet another post idea from a Professor Meier class at Teachers College

Technorati Tags: books, Peter Senge, systems thinking, review, students, system, teachers, teaching

arvind s. grover

I am a progressive educator, a podcaster (, a blogger, and dean of faculty of JK-11 school (building a high school) in New York City.