If you are anything like me, at some point in your career as an educator, you have had to write your belief statement. I know when I was in my undergraduate program, that was a requirement as we were building our professional portfolio. I was asked to do the same again during my Master’s Program. It was something that I was asked to think about, or even write, by administrators that I worked for earlier in my career. If I were to go back through each of my belief statements, I am sure there is one phrase that would appear in every statement – some version of “I believe all kids can learn.”
When you pause to think about it, the statement “all kids can learn” has almost become a cliché. But it is also something that we all feel like we are supposed to say. The reality is that saying that all kids can learn adds little to the practices that exist in our classroom. We must go just a step further – we must define what we will do if a student is not learning.
I would guess we have all had a student (or more) that struggled in our classroom for some reason. Maybe a student came to your class with fewer skills than most of your students. Maybe a student’s behavior appeared to impact their ability to participate in learning activities. Maybe a student did not seem interested in the learning that you had to offer. Maybe you believe that a student’s ability is fixed and that you have little influence over that – this may mean that you believe a student needs a specific program or track to meet their needs. Or maybe you think that a student could learn if they took better advantage of the opportunities you offer in the classroom. Or maybe we are content with just seeing growth from a student, even if that student is not closing any gaps that may exist.
Do any of these things mean that a child is unable to learn? No. Instead, there are challenges that may make it harder for a student to meet expectations that you would have for the children in your classroom. But by no means does it mean that a child is unable to meet those expectations.
So instead of asking if we believe that all kids can learn, we need to ask a couple of questions that will help us build a greater sense of purpose:
- If we believe all kids can learn, exactly what is it that we will expect them to learn?
- If we believe all kids can learn, how do we respond when they do not learn?
These questions can help us drive meaningful conversations as a collaborative team, or grade-level PLC (Professional Learning Communities). It helps us to identify the work we need to be engaging in with each child that walks into our classrooms and schools. These are questions we must constantly be wrestling with throughout the course of a school year.
In the past, when we think of school through the industrial model of learning, it was acceptable to sort and select students based on their abilities or willingness to master parts of the curriculum. In the industrial age, there were more opportunities to pursue an occupation that did not require higher-order thinking skills. Now we are living in the information age. In this society, it needs to be a belief of schools that we will bring all students to their full potential. This will help them prepare for their future and the jobs that will exist when they are ready for a career.
This means having the belief that we will establish ambitious standards of learning that we expect ALL students to achieve. And here is the thing, all really does mean all. We cannot fall back on the mindset that some of our students are not capable of meeting those expectations.
During my career in education, I remember several colleagues who would make statements like “My babies just can’t manage that.” Let us be real for a moment. Efficacy is a real thing. That belief that we have in our students will impact on how they do. Henry Ford has a quote that comes to mind:
Similarly, if we believe our students can, or believe they can’t, we’re right. Efficacy is all about what we believe. If we do not believe our students are capable of something, then we can almost guarantee that they will never find success in that thing! And I will be honest, I have had those thoughts too at times.
But here is the wonderful thing! You do not have to do this on your own! Hopefully, you have colleagues around you that can support you in your goals for your students. Hopefully, you can work with the resources in your building to solve problems for those kids who are struggling. Hopefully, your PLC can work together as a collaborative team to address the questions above to find how to best support ever student that walks into your classroom. As you dig into the questions, you’ll find new ideas, new solutions, and new successes. And your students will learn. Maybe not as quick as we would like, but with time, with focus, and with belief, they will get there!
What are your thoughts? Have you ever found success with a student that you were not sure you would be able to? Was there something you learned from that experience? Share with us in the comments below!