Thursday, July 12, 2012

Encourage, Affirm, Instruct then Educate

Many discussions with professional educators have lead me to understand the best thing about the career is not June, July nor August, but the students!  The relationships teachers form with students seem to energize, refresh and rejuvenate the adults that are their to serve the students.  This encourages me as an administrator to know we have the right people on the bus! (thanks Jim Collins)

Now let's shift to the cycle identified by the title.  Students bring their variety, backgrounds and concerns that influence their learning and propensity for success at school.  This is our challenge, our quest and the thing that drives us to succeed; the diversity in the classroom.  This also disguises our greatest challenge.  How can we instantly assess, then balance the various abilities, plan and organize interesting activities that keep everyone's attention and finally measure our effectiveness through assessment, in a 54 minute daily lesson?  The four terms in our title form a cycle necessary for changing behavior, learning.

Encouragement often comes "built-in" with many of our students.  Parents, coaches and prior teachers have supplied sufficient internal capital and students already believe they can achieve great things.  These students affirm themselves readily and participate throughout their instructional processes taking a major role in their own education.  Solid and healthy relationships with caring, guiding and conscientious adults establishes this foundation of success and self-esteem.

However,  there are a enough students that lack this foundation and they often have greater impact on the alleged success of a program, grade, school or classroom or even teacher. (which is another blog in itself)   These students do not know solid words of encouragement.  They know sarcasm but can not glean any truth and only hear the jab clearly.  (Please note: Encouragement typically comes from external sources, namely that caring adult.  Discouragement also comes from adults but encouragement will also only go so far.  Nothing is remembered like the subtle jab or pointed cutting remark.)  Students must believe in themselves enough to take the educational risks we are requesting and suggesting.  If they are not equipped, we MUST encourage them till they can claim their own affirmations as true.  This is the difference between the terms encourage and affirm: encourage is external but affirm is internal. Even Dr Seuss talks about playing lonely games "you cant win because you will play against you" in Oh the places you'll go.  Understand this self talk is necessary  before we can master a new topic, learn a new skill or even learn to read, so we can read to learn.
Step 1:  Encourage everyone, about something! Anything!
As we continue looking at the plight of the dis-advantaged, we also consider their self-fulfilling prophecy.   They think they are not successful and so it becomes! They often times have no example of personal self-affirmations.  Few people exist in their world that are able to demonstrate with authority and proven success how this is supposed to look, work and effect outcomes of the things happening to and around them.  Encouragement from a caring adult is a proven and effective way to equip others to succeed. 
Step 2: Show, model and discuss effective affirmations. "I know this material." "I am going to ace this test." "I CAN do this."
I heard once, "the teacher comes along when the pupil is ready."  As educators, unlike the manufactoring world, we can not reject ill fitting raw material.  We must prepare all our pupils!  They do not always come ready to learn.  Howerver, we want the best for all our students, by choice and determination, and understand if our emotions drove and controlled our thoughts, progress would cease.  Hense, our instruction, best material and directed energy is focused on their success and our presentation of the learning activity. The activity becomes secondary after the student is mentally motivated to learn.  After student personal affirmation and encouragement has established a fertile mind, receptive to the lesson, instruction can take place.

Step 3: Instruct, teach, present the material, provide learning opportunities and plant the seeds of knowledge that grow into...

Step 4: ...An Education. 

Summary:  Encourage everyone. Teach affirmations. Provide instruction. Earn and Education!

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