I Realized I Wasn’t Holding ALL My Students to a High Standard

by | 02.11.19

Sabrina Creen is a teacher in California. Follow her on Twitter @Mrs.Creen_Tweets.

I’m in my first year of teaching, and I really think I am at the best high school in the universe. We have a huge focus on community building, and everyone is so welcoming – to new teachers like me and to our students. We’re all about being a second home for our students and making sure every scholar has an adult they feel connected to.

I love this environment and the way we build our students up. I like to be my kids’ biggest cheerleader and am always telling them, “You’re so awesome!” But I think early on this year, something was getting lost in my relentless positivity and encouragement.

I would look for the kids who really just needed a win, and I’d go lighter on them when I assessed their writing. I would think, “It’s not that big of a deal. They just need to feel success.” But kids are hyper aware of what’s going on behind the scenes – more than I realized. They know when you’re grading lighter on them, and they know when they aren’t doing their best work. By giving students those breaks, I was actually doing them harm.

By not holding everybody to the highest possible standard, I was telling some kids, “I believe in you less.” I wanted to give them a win, but it wasn’t really a win at all – it was a blow to their self-esteem, because I was celebrating their work, even when they hadn’t reached their potential. It was a way of telling them, “I think this is the best you can do.”

My personal mission as an educator is to make sure every student knows their voice is powerful, valuable and important. There are ways I can give students a voice in the classroom, and give them chances to experience those wins, without lowering my expectations when it comes to the academics. A lot of that goes back to community building.

I end every day with my scholars the same way. In the final five minutes of class, we all stand in a circle, and I ask them to answer one of three questions:

1. What’s one thing you learned today?
2. What’s one thing you found interesting?
3. What’s something I can do better as your teacher tomorrow?

And they don’t hold back, now that they know they can speak up. They might say, “If you could just be more organized tomorrow, that would be great.” When I give them a voice in our community and in classroom decisions, and when I make myself vulnerable for them, they feel more comfortable accepting feedback from me. They know I have faith in them when it comes to the academic stuff. I can give students wins in our classroom and make sure they have a voice in the community, and then when I have to push them harder on their writing, we’re working from a foundation of respect.

Now, when I have to keep pushing kids to reach higher in their work, I tell them, “It’s because I believe your voice is important, and I want you to have the best skills you can have to get your voice out there. I’m holding you to the highest standard possible, because I believe what you have to say is important, and I want to make sure you are able to say it effectively.”

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