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Perseverance, Effort, and Success

 The last couple of weeks I have spent a good deal of time in school districts working with teachers and building leaders to improve teaching and learning.  In each instance, we have spent time discussing classroom environment.  Saying that establishing a classroom environment that supports EACH learner is really an understatement.  There are many students that are motivated to “do school” well and will “make the grade” often, in spite of our instruction.  I would venture to add that the grade in many instances is an indication of compliance not learning.  Students that are not motivated by the grade (compliance) are the same students that we often identify as “at-risk” and struggle to know what to do to motivate them toward improving their academic performance. 

So, how do we motivate students to learn?  First, we have to shift our own mindset.  We have to think about our classrooms as a place where students can hone their skills of investigation and critical thinking rather than one where the focus is on passing a test.  No surprise, it is about moving students to deeper and more meaningful understanding. 

I think about my own two children, one a senior and one a sophomore in high school, both very different learners with very different needs. One an ‘A’ student (compliant) and one a ‘C’ student.  However, my concern for both my children is the same – will they have the skills and personal qualities (such as perseverance) to achieve, to be the best version of themselves? So, as I think about upcoming parent-teacher conferences, my questions to their teachers are the same; how are you as a teacher, challenging and motivating my child to think and apply skills needed to persevere, to apply what they know to new situations?  What does effort look like and do they understand the link between effort and success? 

Secondly, parents and teachers alike have to take responsibility for defining what it takes to succeed.  We do this largely through modeling and providing real-life examples.  What do role-models and examples of success look like?  The Merriam-Webster definition of a role-model is, “a person whose behavior in a certain role is imitated by others.”    No where in this definition does it indicate that a role-model is perfect or without flaws.  Certainly, I would say that my own father has been a great role-model to me, but as I have discovered as I have gotten older, he is not without flaws.  In the classroom we need to have conversations that stress that our own failures make us human and it is our tenacity after failing that matters.  We may not agree with the lifestyles of many pop-culture icons or public figures, but we certainly can help students to recognize the positive qualities even in those whose flaws are also put on display.  We can recognize that it is always about choices and the journey that comes about as a part of the choices we make.   Role-models don’t always make the right choices, that’s what makes them human and what makes their efforts and successes even more meaningful.  If we stop moving forward, in spite of our imperfections and failures we will never be the best version of ourselves. 

Do you talk to your students everyday about effort and provide them with real stories of what it takes to keep going, especially when the going gets tough?  Especially when we mess up? 

 In the words of Winston Churchill,  “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” 

For further information consider:

Mindsets by Carol Dweck, PhD

Classroom Instruction that Works by Dean, Ross-Hubbell, Pitler, and Stone

Discipline in the Secondary Classroom by Randall S. Sprick, PhD




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