It isn’t always about the questions we ask. Sometimes, it is more important to consider HOW we are asking it. The way we frame our thoughts constructs the lens with which we view the world.
Let’s reframe a common series of questions in a way that benefits students and teachers alike. We often wonder questions like: “What’s wrong with this kid?” “Why is this kid struggling?” or “why is this kid like this?”
Here is your new question. “Why is this person a perfect student?” This is an incredibly important question to ask of all of your students.
This is an exercise in psychology and argumentation. By changing the question in this way, you are now forced to defend the student you are thinking of. Your language must change to match the question being asked. It immediately draws your mind away from any of the struggles or challenges they are facing, to focus on the strengths and goodness of that student.
Throughout my eight years of teaching from grades 7-12, I have encountered many students. They often puzzled me with their behavior or seemed to have a mental block that prevented or challenged their success. It was easy to fall into the trap of blaming the student, finding their faults, or feeling like they were not even trying. I soon realized that my ideas of how they should behave in class did not fit their experiences.
Even worse, I would hear other teachers complain about those students. They would often fixate on what the student could not do or what they were deficient in. This hyper focus on the flaws would lead to the student burning out and lacking confidence. It had no productive impact on their work and only led to a further decline.
My new, reframed question aimed to look at the perfection in each student rather than the tensions that existed between their character and the school system they were absorbed into.
“Why is this person a perfect student?”
Now I had to find their strengths and their passions. This meant that I needed to communicate with them and learn from them. That process put my students in a position of power and influence in the classroom. Their ideals, values, and passions were protected and respected in the classroom setting. They all became experts in their own field, ready to share their wonderful attributes out.
The result? Students who were often referred to as “bad,” “at risk,” or “below level” were outperforming their peers. Classroom management became a non-factor as my job became more of an experience of learning from them and learning with them. Even better, I began to gain more joy as a teacher in partnering with my students and becoming an advocate for their success rather than a barrier against it.
Think about your students and pay particular attention to the ones who take up more of your head space throughout the day. Reframe the question. “Why is this person a perfect student?” If you don’t have an answer, it may spark the most productive and interesting conversation you will ever have with that kid.
Dr. Kevin Leichtman is the author of “The Perfect Ten: Ten Students, Ten Mindsets, One New Definition of Perfect.” He is also the co-founder of TLC Educate, alongside his wife, Dr. Anala Leichtman. Kevin has taught ELA/Reading in every grade level from 7th-12 and teaches equity and diversity courses at Florida Atlantic University. His research interests include equity, student voice, burnout, and mindset.
Book Description: “The Perfect Ten” will challenge your perspective on the idea of the “perfect student.” This non-fiction, narrative based project will introduce you to ten students who did not fit the typical mold of a perfect student. They detail their experiences, both in and out of school, to show how they were able to leverage their strengths and overcome the obstacles that many parents, educators, and peers placed in front of them. Their vulnerability and stories of success will surely inspire you as you consider the role perfectionism plays in your own life and the way you view others.
Author Info: Dr. Kevin Leichtman is the author of “The Perfect Ten: Ten Students, Ten Mindsets, One New Definition of Perfect.” He is also the co-founder of http://tlceducate.com. Connect with him at http://twitter.com/kevinleichtman.