“It is easier to build strong children,” Frederick Douglass once remarked, “than to repair broken men.” Herein we see a partnership that all schools ought to aspire to: in school, we help our communities build strong children, specifically teaching them to master things that they are unlikely to learn about outside of school.
The trouble, of course, is that a strong child is not a coerced child. You don't build a strong education through carrot-and-stick motivation; you don't cultivate strength for today and tomorrow by turning your classroom into edutainment.
And so you must attend — and I must, in my room — to the Five Key Beliefs beneath student motivation. In order:
- You must do your best each day to grow into a Credible teacher in the heart of each of your students. That is, you must signal to each that you care, that you're competent, and that this work means something to you.
- You must respect that many of them do not Value the work of learning in school, and as a result you must invite them to feasts of knowledge, signal to them the goodness of what you see in an education, and guide them towards valuing an education for themselves.
- You must help them believe that Effort pays off and that success (growth toward mastery) is possible (Efficacy). This requires teaching them how to learn effectively, in areas big and small; defining success with and for them, early and often; and helping them to unpack outcomes, good or bad.
- And you must help them to see that their identity can fit with learning a discipline like yours (Belonging). One of the best things for helping with this, of course, is to normalize struggle.
What I've just laid out is basically an outline of my new book, The Will to Learn. It's available for preorder now.
May we build strong children together, starting with their hearts.
Teaching right beside you,
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