Turning Reluctance into Resilience

GUEST POST  by  Dr. Cheryl J. Wright

As effective educators, we strive to meet students where they are. But what if where they are is “I don’t care”? Rather than conceding that students can’t do better, it is important that we

  1. Make connections to build on students’ interests and strengths.
  2. Take time to clearly define crucial teaching content and create achievable goals.
  3. Teach intrapersonal skills and real-life applications of lessons.
  4. Provide effective support while emphasizing student effort and acknowledging progress.

Here are some ways these tenets might play out in the classroom, especially when students struggle to muster their motivation.

Cultivating the Will to Succeed

Taking time to know students and welcome them to the classroom fosters not only a positive culture but a productive one. Students perceive a safe environment where asking questions, sharing ideas, and linking learning to prior knowledge are the norm. When establishing classroom culture, it is beneficial to “focus on what students need to succeed and build it into the learning and social environment every day” (Jensen, 2016, p. 111).

How This Might Look in Practice

  • Inspire hope: Greet with a smile, give high fives, and embed genuine affirmations (e.g., “It’s good to see you.” “Nice job getting here on time.” “Welcome back.” “You nailed it!”). Specify how learning is beneficial in students’ lives and be receptive to their thoughts and feedback. Integrate examples into your teaching of how individuals overcome adversity. Ultimately, interactions with students should serve as stepping-stones for trust and growth.
  • Express enthusiasm: Exhibit a caring disposition for students and excitement about the topics you teach. Convey instruction with positive energy and purpose. Students will be more likely to ask questions and pursue learning.
  • Be approachable: Have clear and consistent expectations for both learning and behavior while also promoting civility, equity, and respect. Nurture students’ curiosity for learning by guiding them to discover their talents and view situations from different perspectives.
  • Embrace teachable moments: Encourage students to reflect on learning experiences and tell them that their voices matter. Analyze what is going well, what adjustments are needed, and how different methods can get better results. Look at drawbacks as opportunities to solve problems creatively and build confidence.

Fostering Essential Connections

How often, despite our best intentions, do we assume we know what motivates learners? Do we take time to genuinely know students or explore their attitudes about school? These questions call to mind a middle school student I once met. He was sometimes sheltered from challenging work out of a misplaced concern that pushing him to think critically would be too frustrating for him. Basic lessons that required mere regurgitation of facts conveyed low expectations and insulted his potential. When I asked him, “What influences you to do well in school?” he said, without hesitation, “When teachers don’t give me the easy stuff!”

Educators who motivate clearly define objectives and provide opportunities for “learning by doing.” Feedback and multiple opportunities for practice help students understand expectations, monitor progress, and foster a can-do attitude.

How This Might Look in Practice

  • Focus on success and set achievable goals.
  • Clearly identify the topic and what students will learn.
  • Use multiple, kid-friendly ways to explain learning goals so that students purposefully engage in the learning process.
  • Connect lessons to what is relevant to students, including real-life examples and analogies to foster deep understanding.
  • Pinpoint crucial information; too much at one time can be overwhelming and confusing.

Not Academics Alone

Competency in our content areas alone does not inspire effort. We must be sensitive to the fact that students may have experienced failure many times before coming to us. Students can be apprehensive that teachers will talk to them in a condescending manner or won’t value them. A savvy teacher knows how to convey instruction in ways that give and garner respect.

How This Might Look in Practice

  • Share a personal experience.
  • Acknowledge when you get it wrong: “Sorry, this is my fault.”
  • Say, “I have no doubt we can get this done.”
  • Encourage self-confidence: “We’ll take it one step at a time.” “You’ve got this!”
  • Invite feedback: “What are your thoughts?” “How might this be done differently?”
  • Follow the 2×10 strategy and “invest 2 uninterrupted, undivided minutes a day for 10 consecutive days with the sole purpose of relationship building” (Mendler, 2000, p. 51).

Making a Difference

Unmotivated students can challenge any teacher. However, consistently framing each day as an opportunity to get stronger, and giving students the supports to do so, can encourage them to persevere. Over time, reluctance shifts to resilience, and students’ excitement for learning reawakens. What could be more rewarding than giving struggling students hope and a chance to hold their heads a little higher?

References

Jensen, E. (2016). Poor students, rich teaching: Mindsets for change. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Mendler, A. N. (2000). Motivating students who don’t care: Successful techniques for educators. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Cheryl J. Wright is an instructional coach in Kansas City for Kansas Public Schools.

Originally Posted in ASCD Express, Vol. 12, No. 23. Copyright 2017 by ASCD. All rights reserved.  Reposted with permission from the author.

Summer Reading List 2017

IT WAS A SHORT, BUSY SUMMER…

The following lists of texts represent what consumed my summer and caused a temporary BLOG hiatus.   My summer was spent engaged in graduate work for my Ed.S., teaching a pre-service education course, and facilitating a collaborative inquiry cadre focused on digital literacy.  Limited opportunities for weekend road trips allowed me to enjoy a few examples of the best of young adult literature.  When all was said and done,  I spent relatively little time focused on literacy instruction specifically but still strengthen my resolve around the systemic (local, state, and national) need to advocate for our CLD students (and their teachers) in urban education.  My focus will always be literacy, but literacy instruction involves much more than skills.  We must provide all students with relevant, rigorous, and empowering learning experiences that incorporate resources present in the unique knowledge and experiences of each child.  You may see that as a common thread in many of the resources listed below.  These are not all of the texts I read this summer; here I seek to share resources I found most impactful to my thinking as a parent, an educator and an instructional leader.

Culturally Responsive/Sustaining Pedagogies

 

Culture in School Learning: Revealing the Deep Meaning, 3rd Edition
Etta R. Hollins (c) 2015

Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, Research, and Practice 
Geneva Gay (c) 2010

Culturally Responsive Teaching & the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement & Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students
Zaretta Hammond  (c) 2015

Building Racial and Cultural Competence in the Classroom: Strategies from Urban Educators
Karen Manheim Teel & Jennifer E. Obidah (c) 2008

 

Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies: Teaching and Learning for Justice in a Changing World
Django Paris & H. Samy Alim (Eds.)  (c) 2017

Literacy Topics Across the Curriculum 

 

Developing Readers in the Academic Disciplines
Doug Buehl (c) 2011 – New Edition Released 2017

Literacy in the Disciplines: A Teachers Guide for Grades 6-12
Thomas DeVere Wolsey & Diane Lapp (c) 2017

Collaborative Coaching for Disciplinary Literacy Strategies to Support Teachers 6-12
L. Elish-Piper, S.K. L’Allier, M. Manderino, P. Di Domenico (c) 2016

Collaborative Inquiry for Educators 
Jenni  Donohoo (c) 2013

Connected Reading: Teaching Adolescent Readers in a Digital World
Kristen Hawley Turner & Troy Hicks (c) 2015

Young Adult Literature 

 

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe 
Benjamin Alire Saenz (c) 2012

The Hate U Give
Angie Thomas (c) 2017

Everything I Never Told You
Celeste Ng (c) 2014

Echo 
Pam Munoz Ryan (c) 2015

I am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World
Malala Yousafzai with Patricia McCormick (c) 2014

March: Book Three 
John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, & Nate Powell (c) 2016

SOME Still on the Book Pile (Or in Process) 

 

For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Y’all Too
Christopher Emdin (c) 2016

Collective Efficacy: How Educators’ Beliefs Impact Student Learning 
Jenni Donohoo (c) 2017

Developing Readers in the Academic Disciplines
Doug Buehl (c) 2017

Everything, Everything       
Nicola Yoon (c) 2017

American Street 
Ibi Zoboi (c) 2017

What summer reading impacted your practice as a teacher or your functioning as a citizen?  I can add those to the pending list.  Have a great school year!