“As a specialist in learning disabilities, I have found that the most dangerous disability is not any formally diagnosable condition like dyslexia or ADD. It is fear.” —“Overloaded Circuits,” by Edward M. Hallowell in Harvard Business Review's Managing Yourself
The absence of the five key beliefs might be the five key fears. If student engagement and motivation are built upon the following five key beliefs —
- Credibility: My teacher is good at her job.
- Value: The work we do matters.
- Belonging: People like me do stuff like this.
- Effort: I'm going to see improvement if I work hard.
- Efficacy: I can succeed at this.
— then isn't it possible that these beliefs have a dark side? Not to get all Star Wars-ish on you, but really, don't these anti-beliefs seem like terribly heavy things for our students to be thinking?
- Anti-Credibility: My teacher is bad at her job. And I'm stuck here, in this class, all semester, all year, with a teacher who can't do it.
- Anti-Value: This work is pointless. Here I am in Algebra, and it's irrelevant to my life.
- Anti-Belonging: I don't fit in here. Everyone is judging me. These people are jerks. I'm an outsider.
- Anti-Effort: No matter what I do, I don't get better. There's no way I can improve. I'm just not a reader.
- Anti-Efficacy: I will fail. This is too hard. This is too much.
These are fears. And even as I write their descriptors, I feel their weight. I see the student faces who voice things like this. They remind me of the meaning of the word “oppressive” — a thing that keeps on in “subservience and hardship.” So many of the problems we see in education come back to these five key fears.
And that's part of why the five key beliefs matter so much. It's why we're smart to give them our time and attention — to study them, experiment with them, work at them with our colleagues, build systems and policies that support them in our communities.
It's also why every little effort toward them matters. Just consider the preposterously simple “Moments of Genuine Connection” strategy I've written about so often. This is the student-by-student, hyper-efficient approach to building credibility (remember, one part of the CCP of credibility is Care) and belonging. From these two beliefs, you've got way more leverage at building value, effort, and efficacy.
Edward Hallowell, a psychiatrist with decades of cases in his history and author of the Harvard Business Review collection from which this post gets its epigraph, writes that “fostering connections and reducing fear promote brainpower.” Is it any wonder? When our students learn in environments supportive of the five key beliefs, the immense brainpower previously required for self-protection in a fearful environment becomes accessible for the work of mastering physics or learning about human health.
Moments of genuine connection are one means to building beliefs and slaying fears. What other simple, powerful methods do you use to build the beliefs in your young people?
The five key beliefs are the best thing I've brought to my work in the past few years. You're welcome to join this summer's cohort in studying them in-depth through the Student Motivation Course. Register here. Purchase orders are welcome and can be emailed to email@example.com