It’s important that your students know you care about them.
It’s important that they know you’re there for them.
It’s important that they know you only want what is best for them.
This is no small thing.
The teacher whose students believe this about them is far more effective than the scores of teachers whose students don’t.
Because it makes everything easier.
Listening, attentiveness, behavior, maturity, independence . . .
Few areas of social and academic development are left untouched by your ability to communicate a one-way, no-strings-attached care and concern for your students.
But there is one area in particular that benefits the most. It’s an area many teachers struggle with.
It’s also an area that is among the most misunderstood, even—or especially—by school districts and colleges entrusted with training teachers.
The area is motivation.
Just knowing that you have their best interest at heart causes students to trust you and believe in what you say.
It causes them to buy into your vision for the class.
Again, this is no small thing, because when students believe that your words are true, they’ll mean something to them.
They’ll hit their mark. They’ll have an effect.
“I believe in you.”
“You can do this.”
“You have everything you need to succeed.”
“That’s good work.”
Coming from someone they trust and admire, the right words spoken at the right time can light a fire under even the most apathetic students.
When they’re preceded by a clear, well-taught lesson, and the expectation that independent work really means independent, they can transform a classroom.
However, there is one more key ingredient.
It’s an ingredient that makes many teachers nervous, an ingredient few feel safe even mentioning among mixed, staff-lounge company.
It is this: You have to be willing to let your students fail.
That’s right. Your students must know that you’re not going to do a scintilla of their work for them.
You’re not going to reteach the same things over and over again. You’re not going to kneel down and coddle them through their assignments. You’re not going to pretend that inadequate work is acceptable just so a student can pass.
They have to know that they’re truly on their own. They have to know that without effort and commitment to the work, they may go down in flames.
In educational circles, there is a reluctance to allow students to learn hard lessons. It’s become a badge of honor—as well as an expectation—for teachers to do more and be more for their students.
Administrators encourage it. Professional development trainers insinuate it. The current culture of teaching embraces it.
But it’s a disaster—for both students and teachers.
It saps the motivation from students. It fills them with boredom and indifference. It shakes their confidence to the core.
It’s also a major reason so many teachers are stressed out, burned up, and seeking a career change.
The only thing students learn from a teacher who won’t let them fail is helplessness. They only thing they learn is that they can’t.
When there is a prospect of failure, however, when there is a real and present danger of defeat, students feel the satisfying weight of responsibility.
It gives them purpose. It gives them challenge. It gives them energy, accountability, determination, and excitement.
When there is something at stake, their motivational engines turn over. Their eyes brighten and narrow. Their spirit lifts.
They develop grit and the mindset that they can get better at anything through hard work.
This is motivation.
It’s borne of vibrant, compelling lessons, clear instruction, and a total and complete shift of responsibility from teacher to students.
It’s borne of a teacher who communicates unconditional love for their students.
It’s borne of welcome burden, true independence, and the very real possibility of failure.
PS – For more on the topic of motivation and shifting responsibility, please check out The Happy Teacher Habits.
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