When the influential people in our lives whom we respect notice unique characteristics and latent potential in us and share their observations, the impact can be dramatic and lifelong. However, their influence does not always have an immediate and visible impact. The “seeds” they plant can stay with us, eventually germinate, and ultimately grow into important drivers of the lives we build and paths we follow. Those of us fortunate enough to have had this experience know how powerful these comments, questions, and insights can be, as well as how much influence they can exert.
We can be these influential people in the lives of our students. When we take the time to notice, question, and imagine what could be, we hold something special that may become life changing. When we share with our students what we see in and imagine for them, we can be a catalyst to unleash surprising commitment, emerging identity, and growing talent. What we share does not have to be a long conversation or “sermon.” They may be seemingly passing comments, casual observations, or incidental questions.
The fact is that we can often see hints and glimpses of what the future of our students can be. However, most young people do not have the life experience or self-knowledge to fully appreciate what they can become. They also may be in family and community circumstances that fail to instill and support their becoming something beyond what is consistent with the history of the family and neighborhood.
These comments, observations, and even urgings require little of us other than our attention to and insights about our students. Yet, the potential impact can be far beyond what we might hope or imagine. Here are seven examples to build on:
- I hope that I am still around when you realize the full potential you possess. Most students are unaware of their potential. In some cases, the potential may be related to learning, or it may be in forming relationships and influencing others. Or it may develop in another aspect of life. The key is to plant the seed that the student has more to give and gain than their current aspirations and investment reflect.
- I often wonder how much better you can become if you fully commit yourself. For some students, the opportunity to be better and the talent waiting to be developed is obvious, but their lack of commitment leads to uneven outcomes, unforced setbacks, and unnecessary barriers. Many students fail to realize what they could accomplish if they made a consistent commitment to accomplish what is important and meaningful to them. They do not need more intelligence or talent. They have what they need if they choose to consistently apply themselves.
- I admire how you dig in when you encounter a challenge. Some students struggle and seem to make limited progress. Yet, they do not give up or give in. Despite the barriers and challenges they face, they possess special power in their persistence. In life, persistence is a more consistent predictor of success than intelligence. Often, students just need someone to recognize this special characteristic and encourage them to keep it up and know that their efforts will pay off.
- I notice that when you take the time to think about an issue, you always seem to have a unique insight. Some students are quick to volunteer opinions and perspectives without giving much thought. Others are more deliberate and need a little more time. They may not be ready with a quick, often superficial answer. Both types of students can benefit from this observation. For the quick-to-respond student, this statement can be encouragement to take more time and think more deeply. For students who are more deliberate, this observation can offer important recognition and reinforcement for their approach.
- Your level of curiosity has the potential to give you an amazing future. Curiosity is the gateway to learning. Even students who come from challenging backgrounds and may not have extensive academic background knowledge can find exceptional success when their curiosity is present, persistent, and pursued. When we encourage students to respect their curiosity and continue to ask questions, explore interests, and discover new ideas and insights, we can reveal for them a lifelong path of learning and success. Of course, we also need to be ready to hear and respond to more of their questions, ideas, and wonderings.
- It would be amazing to see what would happen if you chose to use your leadership skills to make a positive difference. Many students who have special leadership skills and talents choose to use them in ways that distract the attention and undermine behavioral choices of other students. While they are practicing leadership, it can get in the way of their and other students’ success. This statement recognizes their skills and talents but nudges the application of leadership behaviors in a positive direction. Rather than fighting or seeking to undermine their leadership, we can encourage its application in a more positive direction.
- I wonder what you will do with the talent you have yet to discover and develop. This statement suggests that the student may possess yet unrecognized talent. We open the door to a search and discovery that may surprise us and the student. The fact is that each of us holds the potential for special talents that we have yet to uncover and cultivate. Sometimes we just need someone to believe in what we may become.
We have exceptional potential to influence our students. An encouraging observation, optimistic prediction, or insightful inquiry can make an amazingly positive difference. However, this same power, if used thoughtlessly, can sap the confidence of our students and leave undiscovered opportunities that assuredly exist for them.