Believing in students is not simply telling them that you believe in them. These words matter only if they are true and if you demonstrate them by your actions. There is no way to fake it, because kids have built in crap detectors (a phrase taken from Neil Postman, and Charles Weingartner, in Teaching As a Subversive Activity), and they can tell if you don’t mean it. Here are some ways to express it.
1. Stop Using Rewards
Rewards are not needed if you believe in a student. The reward implies to them that they only way you can get them to do something is to pay them. That is the opposite of believing.
2. Encourage Effort More Than Achievement
Not every child can meet the unrealistic goals of a test-mad curriculum. Every child can try to do his or her best. Ironically, the harder students are encouraged to try, the better they do on our crazy high-stakes testing.
3. Give Second, Third and Fourth Chances
In many states, the law says, “Three strikes and you’re out.” In most schools, the most troubled kids get only one strike. The message is, “Be the way we want or we don’t want you.” School is for all children and mistakes are part of the learning process, not just for academics, but also for behavior. Rather than strike them out, teach them the skills they need to overcome their deficiencies.
4. Don’t Say “You Failed” – Say “You Haven’t Done It Yet”
Encourage hope by letting students know that, no matter what they do, they can still do better. Safety always comes first in a school environment, of course. Sometimes safety concerns override points 3 and 4, but not as often as we think.
5. Increase Opportunities to Learn
The children who need recess the most are the first ones to lose it. Being removed from field trips, the cafeteria, library and all other learning opportunities only makes students less able to handle them in the future. No one would say to a basketball player, “You missed too many foul shots. You can’t practice until you get better.” It is time to stop giving more opportunities to those who have already proven they are successful while denying opportunities to those who need them the most.
If we can start reaching kids like Roxanne sooner rather than later, who knows how many lives could change?