The Power of Telling Students You’re Rooting for Them to Succeed

It’s too easy to believe in the myth of the “lone genius.” While we love to celebrate the accomplishments of an Edison, Banneker or Jobs, we need to remember that these pioneers had people cheering them on.

Successful people always manage to attract a network of supporters who help them get back up when they fall and provide moral support when they need it most. Knowing you have people pulling for you can make all the difference in persevering when times get tough.

The same concept is true for your students — especially those who come from challenging homes or who lack those “soft” social connections that open doors for children with greater privilege and access.

What does it take to help students feel people are rooting for them? These tips might come in handy:

Tell students you believe in them

Students, especially in the throes of adolescence and the onset of adulthood, often have crises of faith in themselves. As their bodies and brains grow, the awkwardness and unsteadiness of those years send the message that they aren’t good enough and don’t measure up to others.

Yet when an adult — particularly a teacher or coach — tells them they have incredible potential and that they need to try their best to realize it, there’s a good chance that it will sink in. Having someone in your corner is an incredibly powerful thing to know.

See and be seen

When possible, lend your physical presence to the experience of your students. Stop by an after-school study group to see if they need help, or attend a sporting event, art show or another school event to send the message that they are worth your time and attention.

Physical proximity, and the accompanying cheering and words of encouragement, empower the student to work harder and to believe they have the ability to reach their potential.

Think about grit

Fostering the concept of grit — working your way through a difficult problem or situation — is receiving tremendous attention in schools today. What proponents often miss is that grit is not the action of the lone student, driven by an internal desire to succeed. Rather, grit comes out most often in a child who is “anchored” to an adult who will be a sounding board, partner, counselor and overall supporter.

And don’t confuse grit with just being dogged in doing one’s work. Grit needs more than determination: It needs people helping each other to meet a specific goal. Students driving toward completion of a goal must have adults behind them supporting and, when necessary, carrying them.

Fill the necessary role

Not every child comes from a home filled with support and guidance. Sometimes parents are absent or unable to provide the help kids need. Be prepared to step in and fill that role if necessary.

Yes, you’ve been hired to teach a subject or a grade level, but your responsibility is to children, and when a child (or a group) needs you to root for them, do your best to step in and support them as best you can. Extending yourself will help to fill a hole in the child’s life, and they’ll see and appreciate your presence.

Tell them to pass it on

Students will be grateful for all your support. You can help them convey their gratitude by encouraging them to be just as supportive of other people.

Many of us in education, teachers and administrators alike, stay focused on supporting our students because somebody supported us when we were younger. Our belief in our students is the natural extension of the teachers who believed in us.

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Brian P. Gatens is the superintendent of schools for the Emerson Public School District in Emerson, New Jersey. He has been an educator for more than two decades, working at the K-12 level in public and private school settings in urban and suburban districts. In “From the Principal’s Office,” Gatens shares advice, provides insights, and gives guidance on everything from what principals look for when interviewing teaching candidates to how to work with overly protective parents. His front-line assessments supply candid perspectives on school life.

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