Sentries Against Hopelessness

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Coming to school each day can become a hopeless task for some children unless they succeed at what they do. We teachers are the sentries against that hopelessness. — Robert DeBruyn

As educators, we all bring our own memories and school experiences to our work and into our classrooms. Undoubtedly, those experiences are a wide variation of success, enthusiasm, trepidation, motivation, disdain, inspiration, and indifference. It is important to remember that our students are no different. They come to us with a wide array of feelings about school — based upon their individual personalities, home life, and past experiences. Not all will see the value in what they are asked to do, many will lack motivation, or enthusiasm, and some will even be anxious, ambivalent, or angry about school.

There is no lack of emphasis given to differentiation in the classroom. Much of this discussion revolves around meeting the individual academic needs of students, but it is important to keep in mind that educators must also address the social and emotional needs of a diverse population. This can be a real challenge because our own experiences in school impact our approach to working with students. For example, if we have never experienced a repeated lack of success in the classroom, it can be a challenge to relate to the student who feels they have been a failure in school. Educators must be extremely diligent in order to keep “experience bias” from preventing appropriate differentiation to encourage students in their pursuit of learning.
Our objective as educators is not to get by, not to simply manage, not to control or survive – it is to help our students become learners; to prepare them for the challenges they will face in the future. We want students to be successful with appropriately challenging, rigorous, and deep curriculum, but we must also understand the investment of time, energy and resources that it will take to help them achieve these expectations.
We all have an obligation (and as a principal, I have an expectation) that our teachers and staff members will:

  • Believe that EVERY student has something positive to offer and that EVERY student is capable of learning
  • Diligently work to maintain the dignity and self-respect of students and staff members
  • Teach, practice, and re-teach what we expect from our students – do not assume they know
  • Plan lessons that address standards, are purposeful, and relevant
  • Be consistent about addressing issues that interfere with instruction, or erode a positive school climate
  • Be willing to reflect on our individual practice, stay up to date on best teaching practice, collaborate with colleagues, and modify our teaching practice to meet the needs of our students
  • Recognize and address relationships as a key element to improving school discipline and climate
  • Relationships are a BIG deal, and we have to treat them as such. Please consider the following:

    • How will you ensure that each of your students walks away from each day at school, with at least one personal, and positive experience?
    • What tools/resources will you use to get to know your students and their personal interests?
    • How will you reach out to students who haven’t experienced success in a long time?
    • What will you do to let chronically absent students know they are missed?
    • What strategies will you use with the “button pushers” to address concerns with grace and dignity and engage them in curriculum?

    In his book, Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why, author Paul Tough repeatedly points out that in order for students to be engaged and successful, they must (1) have a sense of belonging, (2) have some independence and autonomy related to their school work, and (3) see growth and feel competence. Boiling it down even further, Tough explains that “it isn’t enough for students to have a sense of belonging. In order for a student to truly feel motivated by and about school, he/she also has to perceive that he/she is doing important work- work that is challenging, rigorous, and deep.”

    Relationships won’t change everything, but make no mistake about the fact that little will change without positive relationships. How will you be a sentry against hopelessness for your students?
    Kids who think they are going somewhere behave differently than those who believe they are going nowhere. ~ Pedro Noguera
    Written in July, 2017 – reposted

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