Self-Fulfilling Prophecies and the Risk of using the term “At-risk” (and other labels)

Many psychology students will encounter the concept of Self-Fulfilling Prophecy in their IB or A-level curriculum, and will leave school knowing well enough to think twice before using and promoting these labels once they enter the real world — or at least that’s what studying this concept at school would aim to do. However, a common mistake that is still being made amongst educators is the use of certain labels that negatively impact the group they seek to describe.

One of these is the label “at-risk”, used to describe students that show lower levels of academic success because of non-academic factors, such as poverty, trauma and low English proficiency. Instead of being a clear indicator of groups of students that may need attention, this label attaches negative connotations that inevitably set up these student for failure even before they have been given any opportunity to move beyond their circumstances simply because of the biases attached to this.

It is important to provide alternative identifiers to students that are deemed at risk so that they don’t fall into the trap of the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy and end up becoming the very thing they have been labelled.  

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