It may seem improbable that a single statement, even one made with sincerity and backed by commitment and positive intentions, could change the arc of success students experience. Rarely is there one commitment we can make or position we can take that carries such significance for our students and ourselves. Nevertheless, educators around the world have found the following statement to change their perceptions of their work, the nature of their practice, and their relationships with learners.
That statement is: I cannot be successful unless you are successful. At first, this may seem like a simple or maybe even a throwaway statement. Yet, it is uniquely powerful in that it conveys a set of messages that can transform the learning experiences and aspirations of students. This commitment aligns our interests with the interests of our students, and it places our professional skills, expertise, and efforts behind their success. There may never be a better time for our students to hear this statement from us.
We might assume that students know we want them to succeed and that we are committed to doing what we can to ensure their success. Unfortunately, many students, especially those who have not experienced much success with formal learning, too often see teachers as making their lives difficult, placing them in positions where success is not possible, and leaving them behind when they do not succeed. This statement tells students that their success is in our self-interest. It is no longer a vague hope or ill-defined possibility.
Stating that we cannot be successful unless our students are successful conveys a clear belief in the potential of our students. We are saying that our belief is so strong that we are willing to commit our energy, expertise, and efforts to see that their potential is recognized and developed. This commitment goes beyond “I will do my best and hope that you will succeed.” This statement tells students that we believe in them and we believe in our capacity to ensure they experience success.
Further, this statement expands our role from presenter, organizer, and evaluator to include advocate and unwavering supporter. We still want to be certain that students have the information and resources to succeed, but we now stand with learners to see that they can employ the tools, skills, information, and strategies to find success. If they fail, we fail.
When we make this statement, we become part of a team with our students. Our common goal is ensuring that students learn and succeed. We are on the same side, working to make sense of content, make essential skills attainable, and ensure that their progress is significant and consistent.
In addition, this statement makes our intentions clear. We are making an unambiguous statement to students on which they can count. When we press and nudge them, they can be assured that we are doing so in their interests and in support of their success, because their success has become our success.
For some students, hearing such a clear and important commitment on their behalf from a trusted adult may be a first in their lives. Be assured, it will not be forgotten.