Past Performance Is Not a Guarantee of Future Results

divining rod

The SEC requires mutual fund companies to tell investors that a fund’s past performance does not necessarily predict future results.

I’ve got to start thinking like that about my students.

I ran into a former student at one of the Villanova rallies the other day, and my recollection was that he was a nice guy, and in my class at least, an average student.

When I asked him how his current semester was going and what he had been up to, I saw him light up with a passion that I had never seen in the 15 weeks he had been in my class.

He had gotten involved in some fascinating projects and was eager to share how his current courses were aligned with what he wanted to do when he graduated.

I admit to being taken aback; I was guilty of using his performance in my class to drive my expectations of what kind of student he was in all of his classes.

Clearly this was not the case.

I’ve got to remember that my accounting courses are not some sort of magical divining rod that predict how a student will do in future classes,

For some students accounting may come to them with relative ease, but they may struggle in classes that require a different skill set to succeed. And the opposite can happen as well, as my former student so clearly reminded me.

After I was done chatting with my former student, I walked away excited for him and his future plans.

But I also felt bad about the way I had prejudged him. Could I have been guilty of the Pygmalion effect, or its corollary, the golem effect, something I had just written about a couple of weeks ago?

The golem effect is when low expectations lead to a decrease in performance. If I had not run into this student at the rally, but I got a chance to teach him next semester, would I just expect him to perform as an average student, and that would lead him to performing in that way?

I certainly hope that is not the case, but given how surprised I was to see the student in a different light, I can see how that could happen.

The encounter made me realize I need to get to know my students much better, and not just in terms of how they perform in my class. I need to try and find what their passions are, and then try and relate what we are doing in my classes that can help them pursue that passion.

Even if they don’t get as excited about my class as they are about their passion, hopefully they will realize that I care about them and that I want and expect them to succeed in whatever it is they decide to pursue.

And that’s a good Pygmalion effect, where higher expectations lead to higher performance.

By the way, if you didn’t like this blog post, just remember that it’s no guarantee that you won’t like the next one. So please be sure to check back tomorrow.

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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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