The Psychology Behind Terms Like ‘Failing Schools’


It’s a term that we’ve been hearing a lot lately. It’s a term that I’ve used myself. But I never thought twice about it until I was in one of my master’s classes last year. The course was entitled “The Social Context of Schooling.” Usually we discussed the social environment in which teachers run their classrooms, administrators run their schools, and policy makers shape our education system.

That day, however, we turned the lens on ourselves as educational thinkers. We all know that many, many schools are struggling. Struggling to give kids the education they deserve. Struggling to meet the expectations that have been put upon them by AYP and the policies behind it. Many of those schools feel that they are on the chopping block, bound to close, be turned over to the state, or be turned into a charter school.

This limbo is undeniable, but what are the implications of labeling a school as failing, even if that term is informal? My professor urged us to consider the impact that our language can have on our own thoughts and behaviors, along with those of others. She also wanted us to think about how we would feel if the school we worked in or sent our children to had garnered that label. What’s the likelihood that we would feel any power to turn that situation around? Probably pretty slim. What’s the likelihood that we would throw in the towel and accept that if those around us have given up on our school, we probably should too? Probably pretty high.

Talking about the challenges that schools face is essential, particularly in this era of standards and accountability. However, my professor was absolutely right in asserting that we need to show compassion in our thoughts and words. Education is all about building people up. Everyone deserves to feel like his or her school has a fighting chance.

3 thoughts on “The Psychology Behind Terms Like ‘Failing Schools’

  1. Pingback: The Psychology Behind Terms Like ‘Failing Schools’ | ohyesjulesdid

  2. tosirwl

    Your class sounds interesting. I work in an underperforming school. There is a sort of inferiority complex that goes with it. What also is a part of “underperforming” is change. Each new principle and superintendent comes in and is going to change things but they can’t. They can’t change socio-economic conditions. They can’t squeeze money for things like computers, class sets of books, or after school programs without cutting somewhere else like staff. So administrators move on to greener pastures and staff learns with each new admin team that comes and goes that – this too will pass.



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