By Edwin Beck
Somewhere between the Fourth of July and Labor Day, we are overwhelmed with big-box retailers and their back-to-school marketing tactics. Parents and grandparents are urged to load up on the material necessities that are touted as “givens” for their kids’ success in school.
Beyond those needs are the classroom qualities that, when taken together, lead to student success. The following points were excerpted from an article by professors Richard Curwin and Allen Mendler: “Helping Students Rediscover Hope.” The brief elucidations result from my own experiences in the school business.
Students need to feel that they are competent. There’s never any room for sarcasm or nuanced put-downs; the best teachers look for opportunities to praise successes and good choices – including academic and personal conduct issues.
Students need to experience learning tasks that reflect high expectations. Kids can spot busy work a mile away; they know when they are being pushed to perform better than yesterday, and they know about filling time due to poor preparedness or a teacher’s “bad hair day.”
Students need to feel the connection between their lives, their values and the topics being taught. This is especially critical for kids who are from marginalized backgrounds. “Relevance” may feel a bit overworked from past days, but relevance also works at grabbing and holding kids’ attention.
Students need to feel actively engaged in the learning process. Teachers who plan for partnerships with kids, and act as classroom co-learners rather than lecturing experts, tend to turn out critical thinkers.
Students need to see and feel the clear connection between the topic and the adult’s passion for sharing it.
Students need to see that there is an important school adult always willing to make and renew a personal connection. Former teachers who get frequent visitors from previous school years should be studied for their talents with kids – because they are the men and women who obviously make a positive, lasting impact. Nutritionists study what works in a diet; why not what works with popular teachers?
Students need the attention of adults who have an accurate understanding of what motivates people, and who intentionally plan for it.
Administrators who are responsible for staffing decisions need to professionally craft their interviewing and selection processes, and implement such for choosing new teachers who not only “appear” competent, but have the gifts of intuition and intelligence – and the energy to put it all together day after day, in their student-centered, achievement-based classrooms.
Edwin Beck is a retired school administrator with both public and private experience.