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We want our students to have an experience with us that is memorable and impactful. We want them to look back on their time with us with warmth, pride, pleasure, and gratitude. However, such experiences usually do not just happen. The conditions necessary to generate exceptional experiences are created, nurtured, and protected.  

We also know that the conditions that engender these lifelong memories and feelings lead to high levels of learning, build confidence, and sustain engagement. Fortuitously, most of the factors that comprise these conditions are within our control; they do not necessarily require special expertise, exceptional technical knowledge, or unusual interpersonal skills. That being said, creating these conditions does require thought, persistence, and some specific beliefs. Here are five mindsets we can adopt that will position our students to thrive.   

Every student needs to feel included and supported. A sense of belonging is a powerful driving force for learning and behavior. Students who feel they are a part of a caring, supportive community are more likely to take learning risks, give their best effort, and persist in the face of setbacks. Students who feel the care and concern of adults in their lives are less likely to persistently act out and resist behavior expectations and guidance. Feeling included and supported sets the stage for engagement and success.  

Every student has the capacity to do better. Some students come to us with a record of high achievement and learning success. Others come with a history of struggle and lack of expected progress. Still, other students bring with them a trail of reasonable effort and moderate success. Regardless of their history, every student has the potential to do better and be better than their current performance indicates. When we approach every student with the mindset that greater success is in their future, good things almost always happen. Students can feel our confidence and expectations. Consequently, we can nudge and encourage students to reach higher and expect more from themselves.  

Students who misbehave still want to succeed. Some students may have experiences that lead them to wonder if success is even possible for them. They may believe that the “system” is not working for them, and they may have good reason to doubt. Still, everyone wants to be successful, even if their definitions and hopes of success vary. We need to resist being misled by the behavior we see. How we see our students drives what we say and what we do in response to them. This can be a challenge, but we must refuse to give up. Our power resides in our refusal to assume that students cannot change. If we remain steadfast in our belief, we will see the results we anticipate. 

I am the person who will make the difference for my students. Each of us can probably think of a teacher, coach, or other adult who had an outsized influence in our lives. These are special people to us, but for the most part, they are just regular people who chose to take an interest, expect more, and push us in ways we might not have expected of ourselves. Yet, their influence can be lifelong. We should not believe this special experience is reserved for someone else. We can be that person for our students. We are the key to making change happen. 

My enthusiasm is contagious. Excitement, curiosity, and wonder are difficult emotions to resist. We might worry that students will think that our energy is lame, and they may not respond. However, if we are sincere, even students who initially may resist and scoff still can be “infected” with our positivity. We need not be hesitant, or even measured, in our enthusiasm. It can ignite learning energy and create momentum. Before long, we can shift from creating energy to managing and guiding it. One thing is certain, a lack of enthusiasm is not what we want students to catch.  

Admittedly, teaching can be frustrating, difficult, and draining. Yet, few other professions offer the opportunity to change lives in such a profound manner. We nurture skills, instill attitudes, build character, spark hope, and form what can be lifelong relationships. We have within our reach the power to free students to thrive.

Thought for the Week

Are we being honest with our students if we claim neutrality on important, difficult, and complex issues?

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