Students will flourish and students will struggle. It’s the nature of the classroom beast. Some will announce their achievements proudly and others prefer to brush their uncertainty under the rug. Regardless, the purpose of the educator(s) in the room is to ensure that all students grow from their personal place of knowing, whether they are a confident bloomer or struggling little bird learning to fly. When the struggle is real, opportunities must be in place so that all learners can approach struggles with enthusiasm.
How do we ensure that the right, the necessary, and the continued opportunities for authentic engagement for strugglers (and even the confident) are consistently provided? Whatever the struggle means to them?
Some thoughts on developing and maintaining enthusiasm in times of struggle:
- Open the school year with discussions, examples and celebrations of differences in learners. This is a perfect opportunity to share personal examples of celebrations and struggles in your own journey as a learner. Sharing these examples allow students to understand that you are also a learner. This will also help identify those who have the confidence to push through any challenges and the ones who don’t, yet. Surveying students regarding learning needs, voicing that all learners are different and that sometimes different supports are needed to be successful. These conversations build the culture of trust, empathy and understanding that we all struggle at some point. Encourage students to ask questions and continue these conversations with their peers and their parents as the way to develop their identities as learners, and to help conquer fears. Building in multiple sharing points each day will connect students to each other as people and demonstrate their willingness to share their triumphs and challenges with their learning community.
- Create open spaces in the physical environment as well as in the thinking environment for students to explore, discover, and work through challenges together. Allowing exploration brings a sense of ownership and an enthusiastic attitude for learning and figuring ideas out. This allows every learner to engage through non-threatening interactions with peers, teachers and the classroom environment. Unraveling misconceptions, misunderstandings, or struggles in understanding with the guidance of their peers will encourage the development of a safe environment where all ideas are valued. Place literature and other media and/or materials to be explored around the room, materials that they can use to build understanding on their own, options to share learning in any capacity with others as they see fit. Creating this inclusive classroom environment enables strugglers to be content in their environment.
- Identify specific struggles and determine the roots. Determining the root of a struggle can assist in the empowerment of moving forward. Is the struggle due to mindset? Has the struggle been recognized by the student, the parent or by teacher? Plan the journey to working through the struggles together with the student individually. Give parents options for fun home learning opportunities – which differ from traditional homework. Developing and maintaining excitement for learning when there are challenges is essential to becoming a person who thrives and pushes through difficulty. Excitement is a natural reaction to learning something new and exciting, and even when students are unsure, they encourage each other, setting a trend for sharing, even when the comfort levels vary. Taking time to show the importance of sharing thinking and learning along the way, that it is never too busy in the class to share learning stemming from understanding as well as uncertainty. Always make the time.
Struggles wrinkle the perception of ourselves as learners from time to time, but those wrinkles are critical in the path to becoming an educated individual. It’s a natural part of learning, and that’s likely one of the most important messages to share with students. We all struggle, but together we can fill in gaps and make learning meaningful in ways that make sense to each of us.
Tamera Musiowsky-Borneman currently teaches primary school at ISS International School Singapore and is an active member of the ASCD Emerging Leaders. Her previous roles include Pre-K Instructional Coordinator and Coach for the New York City Department of Education’s Division of Early Childhood Education, and elementary teacher/teacher leader at Alain L. Locke Magnet School for Environmental Stewardship in New York.