Teacher readiness series #12
I’m not nearly as concerned about student readiness for school as I am about teacher readiness. This is a very important article for those of us who are looking to make improvements in our student success in the future. Students walk into classrooms with a built-in motivation to succeed and a built-in deterrent to avoid failure. The younger they are, the more straight forward this motivation and deterrent are. I’ve worked with middle schoolers who have seemingly turned these natural desires off and checked out of school (they actually haven’t; something else is going on). I’ve never seen a kindergartener who did not want to succeed in the school environment. It is up to us as teachers to help the student connect those powerful motivations to the right kinds of activities that bring success.
If you walked into my wife’s kindergarten class, you would see a group of very motivated students who do not get a lot of external rewards. From the very first day, she begins to connect successes with that good feeling inside. While a decision or an accomplishment may seem small, she quickly points out to the student, “You did it, you finished the work, doesn’t it feel good inside to know you succeeded?”, or “Thank you Trisha for helping Logan, doesn’t it feel good inside to know you’ve helped someone?” Then she will get down close to them and say, “You know that good feeling inside when you do the right thing? No one can ever take that away from you. It will never break, wear out, or get stolen. That good feeling from knowing that you did the right thing is yours forever!” She is right. I can go back decades in my mind and still get satisfaction out of the successes I had, the people I helped, and the times I did the right thing.
If I walked into her classroom today, I could yell out, “When we follow directions…” and all the students would yell back, “WE HAVE FUN!” She has established a strong connection between the student’s behavior and that inner motivation. This is not a trick to get them to behave, this is identifying reality. When you plan, when you work together, when you’re organized, when you treat each other well, and are diligent about your work, you accomplish awesome things, and it feels good inside! These are all qualities of success that her directions provide. All she does is have the students notice what they are doing, and how they are feeling, and she helps the connection gets stronger throughout the year.
In the same way, she has students that fail or get into trouble, because they don’t follow directions. The question is similar. What did you do? How does it feel on the inside? Do you like that feeling? What could we do to feel better and avoid that feeling in the future? Students will admit it does not feel fun to get caught, fail, or whatever the negative circumstances were. This does not solve all problems, but over the course of the year she builds an increasingly stronger connection to internal motivations to be successful and avoid failure, and students gain tremendous experiential knowledge about what it takes for them to be successful.
This is a foundational part of student’s building perseverance or grit. At some point a student needs to become conscious of their internal motivation to succeed, tie that motivation to the good feelings it produces, and learn how to leverage that motivation into actions. By doing this kids gain a valuable treasure that can last a lifetime. This treasure is the ability to persevere to a goal without getting an immediate external reward, because they know internally it is the right or best thing to do.