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“I Believe in You”: What Students Most Want to Hear from Teachers

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teacher and studentFor three decades, I’ve been recommending that teachers present movement challenges to kids with the words, “Show me you can…” It’s a simple technique but amazingly effective in keeping kids on task because they want to show you – one of the important adults in their lives – that they can. Furthermore, when a teacher phrases a challenge in such a way, it implies that she or he knows the child can handle the challenge. I’ve witnessed it myself: kids thrive when we believe in their capabilities. 

The work of Harvard psychologist Robert Rosenthal proved that to be true. In 1964, at a San Francisco elementary school, Rosenthal gave children a test that their teachers had been told would predict which students were about to dramatically improve their IQ. Following the test he randomly chose students whom the test had “proven” were on the verge of vast intellectual growth.

The result? After two years of studying the children, Rosenthal found that “if teachers had been led to expect greater gains in IQ, then increasingly, those kids gained more in IQ.”

Does the same thing happen in reverse? If we expect less of students – for example, disruptive behavior from boys or less success in math and science from girls – do we get what we expect? How could we not?

Following my Studentcentricity discussion with Lori Desautels, Deborah Stipek, and Jennifer Carey on the subject of teacher beliefs, Lori wrote,

Teachers and students both “carry-in” private logics, ecologies, and inner worlds. These intimately affect our relationships or lack thereof with our students (emotional connecting). We need to be aware of ours and even share a worry, concern, frustration or an event that is keeping us spinning in negative emotion!

Lori advises

The brain is a social organ first and foremost. It is our responsibility as educators to understand the power in the early and upper adolescent years of social rejection and social acceptance. Peers become the "active worlds" of our students and when we interact with our students, we need to understand the implications of this developmental stage!

To clear up possible misunderstandings, Lori tells us that students prefer that you

1. Ask them in private.

2. Do not call them out in front of their peers.

3. Understand that all behavior is communication. What are your students saying to you? What are you hearing and how are you responding?

Lori says that questions that distract a growing conflict include

1. What do you need?

2. How can I help?

3. How can we make this better?

4. What is one thing that could improve this situation?

5. What are your resources?

To Learn More

                “Teachers’ Expectations Can Influence How Students Perform”: http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2012/09/18/161159263/teachers-expectations-can-influence-how-students-perform

                “3 Things Students Desire to Hear from Teachers”: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/students-desire-to-hear-from-teachers-lori-desautels


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Rae Pica has been an education consultant specializing in the development and education of the whole child, children's physical activity, and active learning since 1980. A former adjunct instructor with the University of New Hampshire, she is the author of 19 books, including the text Experiences in Movement and Music and, most recently, What If Everybody Understood Child Development?: Straight Talk About Bettering Education and Children's Lives. Rae has shared her expertise with such groups as the Sesame Street Research Department, the Head Start Bureau, Centers for Disease Control, the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, Nickelodeon's Blue's Clues, Gymboree, Nike, and state health departments throughout the country. She is a member of the executive committee of the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences and is co-founder of BAM Radio Network, where she hosts Studentcentricity, interviewing experts in education, child development, play research, the neurosciences, and more on teaching with students at the center.

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Guest Friday, 21 October 2016