Don’t tell them they can’t.

Want your students to excel? Don’t tell them they can’t.

Why not tell them they can? You’d be surprised what students can do. Sometimes it just takes you getting out of the way. Provide curricular opportunities that are open-ended in their design instead of curriculum that only has correct and incorrect answers. Allow ALL students chances to demonstrate mastery, creativity, and ownership of their work.

Don’t tell them they can’t.

I’m talking about the systemic and pervasive barriers to learning that happen every day in our classrooms when we make incorrect assumptions about what students are capable of learning. I’m talking about the systemic and pervasive barriers to learning that we install and maintain when we move large swaths of kids through mind-numbing curriculum–curriculum that reinforces can and can’t because it only elicits right and wrong answers.

Don’t tell them they can’t.

Self-efficacy beliefs are a big predictor of success in learning. If students believe they aren’t capable, they don’t have a chance. The messages we send as educators need to be clear and supportive. Ironically, students easily pick up the smallest grain of doubt we may hold while often misinterpreting our subtle positive cues. Be an outspoken and unrelenting believer in them. Help them to believe in themselves by teaching them how to make accurate assessments and see their own growth.

Don’t tell them they can’t.

Vygotsky knew what he was talking about. In order to help students be successful, don’t aim too high or too low with curricular goals or forget that every student is different and has different needs. But whatever your curriculum let it have multiple entry points and various means for demonstrating understanding and growth that go beyond showing a single right answer. Remember that your expectations speak volumes about what you think they are capable of accomplishing.

Don’t tell them they can’t.

Don’t inadvertently tell some they can’t by telling only some they can. It’s easy to work with the established extroverted students. But every student deserves your encouragement. Balance your interactions by checking in often and suitably with introverted students. Less engaged or less successful students need additional specific praise and encouragement. Go out of your way to seek out positive interactions with these students.

Don’t tell them they can’t.

Who cares if they can’t at first or even after a zillion times? Isn’t part of the learning process that you have to be challenged and that you have to put in the work? Isn’t failure a significant teacher? Give them the skills to figure out what went wrong, strategies to improve, and the support to try again.

Don’t tell them they can’t.

Look closely at yourself. What barriers do you implicitly put up? What assumptions do you carry into your classroom? What do you say you yourself can’t do? What fears do you project on your own students? Answer these and be prepared to make necessary changes.

Don’t tell them they can’t.

Reverse psychology is probably not the best (or most ethical) tactic for implementing curriculum. The stubborn among us may take that opportunity to prove someone wrong and end up doing great things. But the danger of this back-firing is too great a risk to take with students.

Don’t tell them they can’t.

Am I being hyperbolic? Are there times when they can’t? Maybe. But is that up to you to decide? Is it even a decision that needs to be made? The younger the student is, the less likely what we’re talking about is going to cause them some danger if they pursue trying. The older the student, the more likely they are to accurately assess whether or not what they are trying to achieve is worth their energy and/or the risk. But you don’t need to be the gatekeeper. That’s not part of your job. Don’t tell them they can’t.

Tell them they can.

Help them get there. Find clever ways around obstacles. Give them time to figure out things on their own. Provide specific support for what they need. Celebrate their effort and persistence. Students will surprise you every day if you let them. Find ways to set up opportunities for greatness. Strive to be that person in the life of your students. I know you can.

One thought on “Don’t tell them they can’t.

  1. Love this!! Reminds me of one of my favorite quotes…

    “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”
    ― Henry Ford


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