Last week we wrote an entry titled ‘The Power of Failure’ and focused on a book titled ‘How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character’ by Paul Tough. In the book it is suggested, and supported by some studies, that part of the problem with education today is that it does not embrace and prepare students better for failure. Mr Tough also points out that what he is finding is that certain personality characteristic have an ability to predict success in school and in life. He lists these characteristics as persistence, perseverance, stick-to-itiveness, self-control, passion and grit.
Listening to NPR this morning a story came on that I feel suggests these intrinsic personality characteristics can be supported by extrinsic variables. Titled ‘Teachers’ Expectations Can Influence How Students Perform‘ it was interesting to hear how a study from 1964 is starting to help raise awareness that we need to expect more from our students and children. As stated in the NPR report:
As Rosenthal did more research, he found that expectations affect teachers’ moment-to-moment interactions with the children they teach in a thousand almost invisible ways. Teachers give the students that they expect to succeed more time to answer questions, more specific feedback, and more approval: They consistently touch, nod and smile at those kids more. “It’s not magic, it’s not mental telepathy,” Rosenthal says. “It’s very likely these thousands of different ways of treating people in small ways every day.”
The NPR story highlights how difficult it is for a teacher to understand the behaviors they may need to personally change or develop if they are to promote higher motivation and support for their students increased achievement. It is not an easy task for any parent or teacher to increase expectations in a manner that balances nurturing and supportive with pushing to challenging goals that a student can achieve. The NPR report asked the educational researcher, Robert Pianta for suggestions that would help teachers who want to change their behavior toward problem students. He provided the following seven suggestions:
- Watch how each student interacts. How do they prefer to engage? What do they seem to like to do? Observe so you can understand all they are capable of.
- Listen. Try to understand what motivates them, what their goals are and how they view you, their classmates and the activities you assign them.
- Engage. Talk with students about their individual interests. Don’t offer advice or opinions – just listen.
- Experiment: Change how you react to challenging behaviors. Rather than responding quickly in the moment, take a breath. Realize that their behavior might just be a way of reaching out to you.
- Meet: Each week, spend time with students outside of your role as “teacher.” Let the students choose a game or other nonacademic activity they’d like to do with you. Your job is to NOT teach but watch, listen and narrate what you see, focusing on students’ interests and what they do well. This type of activity is really important for students with whom you often feel in conflict or who you avoid.
- Reach out: Know what your students like to do outside of school. Make it a project for them to tell you about it using some medium in which they feel comfortable: music, video, writing, etc. Find both individual and group time for them to share this with you. Watch and listen to how skilled, motivated and interested they can be. Now think about school through their eyes.
- Reflect: Think back on your own best and worst teachers, bosses or supervisors. List five words for each that describe how you felt in your interactions with them. How did the best and the worst make you feel? What specifically did they do or say that made you feel that way? Now think about how your students would describe you. Jot down how they might describe you and why. How do your expectations or beliefs shape how they look at you? Are there parallels in your beliefs and their responses to you?
Certainly a great deal for any teacher (and parents) to do, but it seems to be something most of us life-long learners are already working at and continually raising our own bar ahead of societies expectations … or perhaps it is in spite of societies lack of expectations?