All students are capable of learning. But each child’s path to academic progress is not the same. The circumstances in each child’s life can facilitate academic progress or make it more like an obstacle course.
It’s tempting to focus solely on what happens in the school walls. We all have our opinions on what schools should be doing differently. But kids spend only a fraction of time at school from birth to 18.
So aside from the debates on schools, there is much we can do, every day, to directly influence the many factors outside the school environment that are proven to directly contribute to a child’s ability to learn.
One is simply to show the kids we encounter that we value them and have high expectations for them. Really. It’s proven that showing kids they matter pays big dividends in healthier relationships and lifestyle choices, better attitudes about school, and improved interpersonal skills.
Here are 10 simple things any of us can do to help encourage all kids along the path to academic achievement.
1. Smile at them. When you smile, you let kids know you notice them, and usually get a smile back in return. They’re contagious that way. Give kids a smile. It might be the only sunshine they see that day.
2. Expect the best of them. Kids gain confidence from your own high expectations of them. They’re more likely to succeed when you expect their best, and give them a chance to do and learn things for themselves.
3. Learn their names. We all have one! It’s who we are. When someone learns our name, it connects us with them. Learn the names of those around you to expand your world and invite others in.
4. Listen to them. We all have stories that need to be shared. Experience a young person’s world from the inside, and by sitting down and really listening to them. It could change their outlook on the world, as well as your own.
5. Catch them doing something right. When was the last time you caught a young person doing something right and said, “Thanks!” Acknowledge their efforts specifically, immediately, and spontaneously. You’ll discover that when you reward good deeds they’ll keep coming and coming!
6. Let them know their feelings are okay. Honoring their feelings lets kids know they are honored and respected. When you encourage a young person to express their feelings, you don’t just communicate, you shrink the distance between the two of you.
7. Answer their questions. Take joy in the questions kids ask, and offer up some positive feedback or a gentle perspective by really listening to their questions and taking the time to answer them, you help them feel better about themselves and the world.
8. Be available. We can’t always know what young people are going through, but we can be there for them – to listen, to cheer, or to comfort. Nothing tells kids they’re important more than when we simply make time for them.
9. Ask for their opinion. With a chance to express themselves, kids’ self-worth grows. Use these four simple words: What do you think? To unlock a world of new perspective, expertise and energy from a young person in your life.
10. Find ways to show them they matter. Affirmation – we could all use a little more of it in our lives. Our days rush by so fast – it’s important to take a moment and let the kids in your world know they’re important to you.