We do not teach for today, this week, or even this year. Learning is not for the unit assessment or even the state standardized test. Of course, these and other progress and performance markers are important. They give us information to determine if students are grasping concepts as they are introduced and developing skills that move learning forward.
Whether we are teaching in a face-to-face, hybrid, or remote setting, how we approach our work and the experiences we create matter. Our students will take with them important knowledge and skills, but the impact we have on their lives and the things they will remember and value about their time with us will not be found in the content we taught. Rather, they will reside in how we make them feel and the strengths we nurture in them as people and learners.
Think about your experience as a learner. What do you remember most about educators who had the greatest influence on your life? These same feelings and experiences will be treasured by the students whose lives you are shaping today.
Chances are high that much of what you recall and value most falls into five categories:
- Students want assurance that we care about them and their success. It is very difficult to succeed in an environment where we do not feel valued and respected. We want to be known for who we are, not just another student or occupant of a seat. There is a saying that people do not care how much you know until they know how much you care. This axiom is even more important for students who have struggled to learn and find success in school.
- Students want to feel that we have confidence in their ability to succeed. Few of us have the fortitude to keep trying when those in authority around us do not believe we can succeed. Interestingly, the ways in which confidence or lack thereof is communicated are many, but only one of the ways is through words. Our attention, our attitude, and our persistence all play a role in conveying our belief in the success potential of our students.
- Students want to feel commitment from their teachers. We remember people who are committed to our success. In fact, when educators communicate that they cannot be successful unless their students are successful, their influence moves to a new and even more powerful level. When students feel this level of commitment, resistance is difficult to maintain. On the other hand, students quickly discern when educators are “just mailing it in.”
- Students value experiences in which they have a hand and feel responsibility. It may be designing a major project, an opportunity to plan an event, or choosing a learning path. When students experience shifts in learning that lead to greater ownership and responsibility, often a “light goes on” that reveals a passion, builds confidence, and uncovers a talent to be developed. These experiences can drive the direction of a life.
- Students recall experiences that awakened insights, connections, and perspectives. These experiences go beyond learning specific content and mastering discrete skills. When we introduce learning that helps students to better understand the world and make sense of what they see and experience in life, the impact can be lasting and life-changing.
Granted, life and learning can be challenging right now. Yet, we still have it in our power to convey our caring, confidence, and commitment to our students. We can provide experiences and open new doors that lead to new understanding, awaken new insights, and build new perspectives. When we do, we change lives and make imprints that can last a lifetime.