“Dialogue cannot be carried on in a climate of hopelessness. If the dialoguers expect nothing to come of their efforts, their encounters will be empty, sterile, bureaucratic and tedious.” Paulo Freire
I learned about the power of hope the first year I taught at Humber College in Toronto, Ontario. I was a new teacher with few skills, but as luck would have it, I ended up co-teaching and being mentored by Dee La France, a wonderful, kind-hearted teacher, mentor and coach. Dee taught me about the Strategic Instruction Model, and in particular The Sentence Writing Strategy. I was so impressed by the power of the Sentence Writing Strategy that I moved to the University of Kansas in 1992 to do my doctorate with the developers. I am still at KU almost 20 years later.
What Dee taught me, more than the finer points of using the Sentence Writing Strategy, was the importance of believing in students. When Dee sat down to work with a student, her most important message was always, “You can do this. You can master this.” Even students that many of us had given up on, Dee saw as being full of potential.
When we talk about believing in students, it can sound like a cliché or platitude … “Yeah, we all need to believe in kids.” But that was not the case with Dee. On the contrary, Dee taught me that believing in students is a core part of instruction and learning. Dee believed deep in her heart that all her students could learn—it was evident in her body language, her high standards and expectations, her kindness toward her students, her generous encouragement and support—and then, using powerful strategies, Dee delivered! She showed her students every day through formative assessments that they were learning.
This is the powerful combination: high expectations + effective instruction. Communicating to our students that they can succeed is important, but our words become empty if they are not backed up with real accomplishments. Dee, because she had high expectations and because she knew effective instructional practices, was able to encourage and motivate her students and then deliver with proof that they could do it
There’s not much point in going into teaching if we lack hope for our students. No doubt there are frustrations. No doubt there are children or families who disappoint us. But a teacher who has given up on students is a teacher who needs a new career. A minimum requirement for this work is to believe our students can achieve their goals! Then it is up to us to do the hard work of learning what we need to know and do to help them reach their goals.