The image displayed at the top of the article is from the Slides workshop I ran in the last session of the last day of the recent GAFE Summit in Wellington, New Zealand. Despite the attendees at breaking point in terms of information overload and mental & academic exhaustion, I set a goal for this session to be that we published to the net one massive and awesome collective Google Slides presentation. Nothing like authenticity and a bit of peer pressure eh?
Needless to say, every single attendee got their Slide completed on time, much to their and my satisfaction. Now truth be told, a number had prior experience using Google Slides and completed the task in no time at all. However a number had never even used Slides in any capacity before. Undaunted and believing, I dismissed this last constraint immediately and encouraged those who had finished early to assist with those who were finding the allocated tasks reasonably taxing. Bear in mind, this was a group of adult educators who had given up part of their holidays and were now no doubt looking and thinking about heading home. Regardless, of their mindset, my belief and subsequently their self-belief and lastly their belief in each other as a wider collective, meant that the task was not only completed, but done so rather well in my professional but maybe not exactly objective opinion.
Students more of the teenage years, likewise often surprise themselves when they are believed in and are for the most part, grateful and valued as a result (whether the teenagers show explicitly such pleasure is another matter entirely). Teachers need to believe in their students long-term and always keep this perspective close by, just in case it goes wandering time-to-time. I love the concept of lessons being "chapters" or "episodes", a small but important part of something bigger, something continuous. When teachers perpetually show belief in their students consistently and without deference to minor failings, the impact on the students personally and academically can be transformative.
I've lost count of how many students I've encountered over the years who refer to themselves as "dumb", incapable and withdrawn citizens. These students are often the ones who will do anything to avoid doing any work that in their perception will reinforce their dumbness. It is not uncommon in my experience that lower capability students are most prone to such disbelief in themselves, often unintentionally or otherwise reinforced by teachers setting easier work for them or tolerating less than average learning and/or assessment performances. Although the teachers in these situations may not explicitly voice their disbelief, their actions speak for themselves. Often these students are quite happy to some extent being perceived as "not capable, dumb as consequently less work and/or quality of work is expected or required of them. More often than, these students deliberately misbehave to get themselves removed from their learning spaces as a means of ensuring personal and academic safety.
To be blunt, whether a teacher genuinely believes in a student's capability or otherwise is actually quite irrelevant. What really matters is the student's perception of themselves as a adequate or better learner, one that understands failing is learning and not a reflection on themselves or their character. Without belief in them from themselves or others, these students never quite become at one with the learning and can easily withdraw. Those that believe they can, do and do so often. This is where believing in students can be so hard for teachers. If learning was perfectly proportioned in terms of progressions, there would be little need for teacher-extolled beliefs. Unfortunately learning in my experience is often four forward, five back, ten back and then some!
In learning advances as variant as with what occurs with most students in the classrooms of today, it is essential that one constant is the belief of the teacher in the student and explicit promotion of such belief. Obviously the belief has to be realistic and as much as possible individualised but it must be stretched to encourage the student to forward and grow due to the belief-in-play. For many teachers, they often have to learn and/or relearn how to show belief in their students, however as with anything repeated consistently and often, habits and traditions soon form. It is also far easier in my opinion to stay believing than to start believing a little too late. Regardless of whether a student leaves each classroom with a little bit more academic knowledge or understanding, one thing that every student should leave any classroom with is and must be a little bit more teacher-belief and student-belief in themselves. After all, there is nothing really to loose here, is there?