Thank you Facebook, for greeting me this morning with the most agonizing 3-minute video of a bear cub desperately trying to climb a steep, snowy mountain to reach his mom. If you haven’t had the pleasure, take a look (with my apologies).
As hard as it is to watch this bear cub struggle, it occurs to me that as teachers, we have to build up a resilience to this particular type of misery. We have to be comfortable watching our students grapple with difficult concepts, fail and make mistakes, and explain their faulty reasoning.
It often goes against our nature, as many of us got into the profession to support, nurture, and encourage young minds. But we know learning can be much more powerful, much more lasting, when students discover the answer for themselves, rework an idea to improve it, and uncover the flaws in their own thinking.
Don’t get me wrong, my analogy kinda falls apart as the mama bear simply looks down at her cub helplessly. I do think teachers play an important role in assisting students who struggle. But are we sometimes too quick to come to the rescue? Do we overkill the scaffolding, throwing down a rope ladder, when a friendly suggestion to go sideways might do?
Want to give your students opportunities to practice perseverance, to stick with a task even when—especially when—it gets difficult?
- Assign problems and puzzles that might take weeks, even months to solve.
- Publicly reward students who come up with a solution themselves, especially those that take long periods of time obtain.
- Answer a student’s question with a question of your own (and don’t feel bad about it).
- Ask “5 why’s”—when a student gives a response, ask why. Then why again. Then why again? Challenge them to go deeper than they want.
- Resist the temptation to have students jump to a claim without carefully analyzing and citing evidence.
- Celebrate historic figures or celebrities who have stories of resilience. Choose one a week to feature.
- Share your own long-term goals (along with setbacks), modeling a persistent spirit.
We want our students to display the same determination this baby cub showed when facing a formidable obstacle. That simply won’t happen if we don’t provide them opportunities to struggle and grow. Sometimes to set students up for success, we might have to put up barriers and get out of their way.