Along with the recent local educational buzz on finding ways to recognize students at graduation ceremonies and the press conference to laud improvements in AP placements at the local high school, I hope that the educational discourse and conversation would include the equally important business of general student motivation and engagement. It is critically important that we bring the focus back to motivating all students, engaging them in worthwhile activities that will lead to higher academic success and achievement for students who have been marginalized and pushed to the edges.
It is imperative that we seek ways to involve all students and get down to the serious business of creating a renewed spirit and climate for learning in all our schools, remembering that all students contribute to the social fabric at each school, adding value to the entire school community. If this positive school climate were in place at each school in the county, coupled with teacher attitudes and behaviors that empowered students to learn, then the vast majority of our students would be on their way to becoming “the most likely to succeed.”
Adding to this renewed spirit and climate for learning would be the great teachers who spend time on their own looking for ways to improve their teaching performance in order to reach more and more students, developing teaching methods and strategies that help improve the effectiveness of their instruction, along with the general school experience, especially for youth of color. The research is clear, by increasing the reach of culturally affirming teachers, we will be able to positively impact student motivation and engagement.
Along with improving teaching strategies, great teachers also realize the importance of building relationships with students that will extend well beyond the school and classroom. Now, if those relationships are built on a foundation of trust, caring and respect, students will begin to believe that they are performing on a level playing field and will work their heart out to accomplish their goals and will embrace their teachers as someone who will “go to bat” for them. To be sure, in order to have that positive school culture for students, there has to be a level playing field in place that students will buy into. And great teachers, knowing that it’s a matter of being fair and respectful, must be consistent in applying equal treatment for the same offense, giving all students a fair chance in the discipline arena, which gives them a fighting chance to succeed.
Then, following that success, it becomes very important for the schools to recognize and celebrate the students’ accomplishments, being intentional to include every segment of the school community, allowing for greater diversity and inclusivity of student recognition. Clearly, this can lead to improvements in academic success, arriving to a place where success breeds more success, while understanding a student’s perception of fair play and inclusion will probably have the greatest impact on his motivation and engagement.
Larry Sutton is a retired teacher from Clinton High School.