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The Best Place to Start

By Dave Stuart Jr.

If you’d like to start cultivating those five key beliefs in your students, then may I suggest that the best place to start is not with expectancy-value interventions or growth mindset experiments.


Instead, start with the most influential person in your classroom: you.

  1. The effort belief: Do you believe that, through your effort, you can get better at teaching any student on your roster? Do you believe that, through their effort, every one of your students can get better at the knowledge and skills required by your course? When we say, “That kid's hopelessly behind,” we're struggling with this one.
  2. The success belief: Do you believe that you can succeed at the teaching task currently in front of you? (Part of that probably depends on how clear you are on what success looks like. Try the defining your Everest activity.) Do you believe that your students can succeed, even those furthest behind? How we define success is critical here — forget, for the moment, about the insane expectations too often placed upon us by people far from the classroom.
  3. The tribal, or “belonging,” belief: Do you believe that you belong in the teaching community — not necessarily the people in your hallway so much as the people around the USA and the world who have dedicated themselves to earnest, improvementist careers — those who are earnestly, joyfully never finished?
  4. The value belief: Do you believe that teaching is worth the hard work? Do you believe being the best teacher you can be is worth setting a fixed work schedule? Is it worth getting better at saying no so that our “yes” to teaching is as powerful as it can be?

And remember, the only kind of beliefs that matter are the operational realities we knead into our hearts — the intellectual assents we make in our heads are just the first steps. Creating belief in ourselves is constant work, requiring time and tenderness and ferocity and focus. We need to write these things on our hands, on our computer home screens, and yes, in our classrooms. When you endeavor to push against your wrong beliefs, to build durable beliefs that last even in the face of difficult students and challenging years, then you’re poised to start building these things in your students.

And when that’s happening, you’re creating levers by which to increase the impact of every reading or writing or knowledge-building learning experience you create.

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