We look for advantages when and where we can find them. Advantages can give us a head start and make success more likely. Advantages give us leverage to avoid wasting time and energy. Advantages are especially welcome when they do not mean that others must experience a disadvantage. So, starting the new year with advantages that help our students and us succeed can be welcome, especially during times like these.
One of the most significant and impactful advantages we can gain as we begin a new year lies in how we think about and approach our work. How we position ourselves in our relationships with students will largely determine how they will respond. And the strategies we employ to help students learn will greatly influence their success.
With this context in mind, let’s explore four mind frames that can give us and our students important advantages in the weeks and months ahead:
Mind frame #1. Don’t focus on removing the challenges that lie ahead; prepare students to meet them.
We might be tempted to lessen the challenges that students will face by giving them easier work or providing excessive support, but we risk devaluing the success they achieve and giving a false sense of accomplishment. Rather than making the road ahead easy, we can focus on developing the skills and confidence students will need to meet and succeed with the challenges they will face. We will not be able to lessen the challenges our students will experience once they leave us. Preparing our students to accomplish demanding tasks and succeed in difficult times is an advantage we can offer that will serve them well regardless of what their futures hold.
Mind frame #2. Don’t protect students from every misstep and setback; help students learn from their mistakes.
Mistakes can be frustrating and even painful. Of course, we do not want our students to suffer. However, in the context of learning, mistakes can offer powerful lessons that lead to growth. In fact, some of the most powerful and memorable learning our students will gain this year will be the result of their mistakes and missteps they experience. While we need to offer instruction and coaching that focuses students on what is important and prepares them to encounter new concepts and skills, we also need to allow them to make mistakes without shame, excessive penalties, and unnecessary risk, so that learning can result.
Mind frame #3. Don’t force students to prove they are trustworthy; assume and treat them as though they are, and they will prove you are correct.
What we assume about the character and intensions of others can have a determinative impact on how they respond. When students feel that we trust them and believe they will be positive, contributing members of the class community, they are far more likely to behave accordingly. Lengthy lists of rules and consequences for misbehavior risk communicating a lack of trust and can tempt some students to test us to confirm their suspicions. On the other hand, when we choose to trust, students are also likely to want to prove us correct. Meanwhile, should the behavior of students occasionally fall short of our expectations, we are more likely to see and treat the behavior as an aberration than confirmation that they are not trustworthy, and we will seek to correct rather than punish.
Mind frame #4. Don’t ask students to convince you of their talents; look for what makes each one special.
As a new group of students enters our class, we might take the position that they must prove themselves to us before we recognize their abilities and talents. Of course, some students who have the confidence of past success will respond. However, this approach risks missing some of the most important, latent talents that students possess and have the potential to develop. Conversely, if we adopt the mind frame that every student possesses talents and gifts and our challenge is to help each student discover and develop what makes them special, we set the stage for far more talent discovery, development, and demonstration. Importantly, even if we are not successful in completely discovering and developing the gifts of some students, we will have communicated to them that they are special, and we are confident they have potential that is yet to be fully recognized.
We cannot control every aspect of our students’ learning, relationships, and growth in the year ahead. However, the mind frames we adopt and the advantages they offer can make important differences in crucial areas over which we have control. The best part is that these mind frames cost nothing but hold the promise of immeasurable value.