Teaching Our Students Hope
If you have had a difficult class before, you know that fantastic lesson plans mean nothing if you don’t have your students on board to learn. Classroom management is the most important thing you do as a teacher; it is also the hardest. How do you get a class full of different personalities with different needs to learn and work together every day?
You teach your students hope. Some of your students already have hope. They believe that if they work hard, good things will happen. These are the students who have been taught hope by their families and communities before they came to school. These kids will behave and participate in lessons because they know it is essential for their future happiness.
Other students have to be taught hope. These are the students whose past experiences have taught them they can’t control their lives. They have learned that even if they do good things now, good things will not happen in the future. These students are hopeless.
Luckily, hope is something that can be taught.
The first thing you need to do is connect with your students. To change their beliefs, you will need to earn your students’ trust. As soon as you get your class list, find out as much as you can about your students. Keep a list of what they like, what they are good at, and what they accomplished last year. This list is especially important for your “difficult” students.
When your new students arrive for Back to School Night or the first day of school, talk to them about what you know about them. For example, “Hi, Kelly. I am so glad you are in my class this year. I heard that you are an amazing artist. I would love to see some of your drawings. In fact, I have always had trouble with art, and I was hoping to have a drawing of a butterfly for a project we are doing about the lifecycle of the butterfly. Do you think you could draw a butterfly for the project?”
Not only have you shown the student that she is important because you wanted to learn more about her, but she also knows that adults think she does something really well. You are even asking her for help, which shows that she is an integral part of the classroom community.
Connecting with students doesn’t happen with one conversation. You will need to routinely talk to your students and let them know they are important. Simply getting positive attention will open the doors for students to feel hopeful.
Once you have connected with your students, it is time to show them that they have control over their futures. You will need to start small. Give students a challenge you know they can complete. These students are not ready to learn from failure. They need some success. This is why I love personalized learning. Often kids without hope have spent their time at school being asked to do things that are too hard. They don’t even know what success at school feels like. By giving students work at the right level of difficulty, you are setting them up for success.
When your students have conquered the challenge, celebrate with them. You do not need to give them a reward; success is its own reward. Getting prizes can actually demotivate students in the long run.
Teaching your students hope will take time, but the benefits will last all year and beyond. Once a student believes that his actions determine his future, you will be able to focus on teaching, and he will be able to focus on learning.