By: Steve Reifman of SteveReifman.com
Three weeks ago I began my nineteenth year as a classroom teacher. My job becomes more fulfilling each year because I am constantly learning new strategies that I can use to help my students become more successful. One of the most important lessons I have learned is that the number one key to student success involves setting high standards. Usually, parents and teachers are the ones who establish high expectations for children, and, of course, this act is critically important. By themselves, though, high expectations set by adults will only take us so far. The real progress begins when students make these expectations their own – when they become high personal expectations.
Every year I see students make significant learning gains, and without exception this progress is due to the fact that the kids decided that they wanted to do better in school and made the choice to dedicate themselves to becoming quality students. Once children make “The Choice,” a virtuous cycle begins. I describe the steps of this chain reaction below. The diagram that follows conveys these steps visually. Sharing the diagram with kids is a wonderful way to introduce the concept of developing higher personal standards, and the diagram can serve as a consistent, long-term reference point that can be used both at home and in the classroom.
1. After making “The Choice,” kids immediately start working harder in school, being more diligent with their homework, and caring more about doing well academically.
2. As a result of this greater care and effort, the kids produce better, higher quality work. This may not happen right away, but it will happen eventually. Samples of this improved work offer the first tangible proof that something special is starting to occur.
3. When students begin producing better work, others will begin to notice. Teachers, parents, and classmates will provide positive feedback. More important, the kids themselves will notice, and they will give themselves positive feedback.
4. Positive feedback will increase children’s confidence. Noted educator Theodore Sizer once said that children will maximize their potential when they are motivated and confident. Positive feedback powerfully affects both motivation and confidence.
5. The virtuous cycle continues as kids, who are now feeling more confident and believing in themselves to a greater degree than ever before, feel a deeper sense of pride and become more enthusiastic about school. Children who reach this stage are doing well, and they know they are doing well. They walk taller, participate more frequently in class discussions, and handle adversity more effectively. They strive to make the most of every learning opportunity, and they believe they can be successful at whatever their teachers put in front of them.
6. This part of the chain reaction marks a crucial step in a child’s transformation. The high expectations established initially by parents and teachers now belong to the students themselves. The kids made the choice to develop higher standards with regard to their work, effort, and behavior, and they are the now the principal owners of this choice.
7. At this point the cycle rises to a new level as children try even harder and care even more about doing well in school.
If children have not yet made “The Choice,” the best way for teachers and parents to encourage this decision is through unconditional support and by communicating the following idea: “I know you are capable of so much more and that you have greatness inside of you if you are willing to work a little harder and put more time and effort into your school work.” When adults consistently communicate high opinions of children’s worth, talent, and potential, kids become more likely to believe in and expect more from themselves. Children may not alter their expectations tomorrow or next week, but if they hear this message enough times, ultimately it will sink in.
Steve Reifman is a National Board Certified elementary school teacher, author, and speaker in Santa Monica, CA. He has written several books for educators and parents, including Changing Kids’ Lives One Quote at a Time, Eight Essentials for Empowered Teaching and Learning, K-8, and his two new $1.99 “Back to School” PDF’s, The First 30 Days and The First 10 Minutes. Steve is also the creator of the Chase Manning Mystery Series for kids 8-12. Each book in the series features a single-day, real-time thriller that occurs on an elementary school campus. For Teaching Tips, blog posts, and other valuable resources and strategies on teaching the whole child, visit http://stevereifman.com. Follow Steve on Twitter (@stevereifman) and subscribe to his “Teaching Kids” YouTube channel.