Hello everybody, welcome to episode 77 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino – it’s nice to have you all here today. We’re gonna be looking at a question sent in from a teacher, which I believe it another first for the show. We’ll look a little bit into what drives kids to succeed and how we can play a part in it – so hopefully some good lessons for teachers and parents alike. Let’s have a look at the question…
QUESTION: “I’ve been teaching high school math for two years at a small public school. Before schools got let out due to COVID-19, I was dealing with a very bright student who I could see starting to slip. Even though we’ve been out of class, I still worry about the decisions he’s making because I know how much potential he has. Many kids in the school are less focused and less compliant in the room, and more and more I see him replicating this behavior even though I’ve encouraged him not to by reminding him of the rare skills he possesses and why he doesn’t have to do things just because others do. I try not to give extra attention to any student, but as a passionate educator, I hate to see young knowledge go to waste. Do you have any different ideas as to how I can bring out the best in this student?”
An Interesting Phenomenon
Thank you for sending this in. I’ll say I’m a little nervous because I feel you and your fellow teachers are much more equipped to handle this situation than I am. I took a total of one Ed class and my most distinct memory from it was the professor scolding me because I showed up in pajamas one day. Though to be fair the class was “Adolescent Development,” so at least it was an applicable one for today. But I’ll do my best and see if I can offer something you haven’t heard yet.
There is actually an interesting phenomenon I want to bring to your attention that I just read about in a book called Contagious by Jonah Berger – incredibly good book. Very eye opening read about the psychology behind why people retain and share certain advertisements and not others. I highly recommend it.
In the book, Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign was referenced. So the backbone of her anti-drug campaign was this series of commercials in which kids were regularly being approached with drugs and simply saying no to the invitations. This inspired a similarly run campaign called the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, which Congress put $1 billion into.
The data was collected for all of these anti-drug ads by a communications professor named Bob Hornik, and he discovered that the inverse had happened. Recreational drug use amongst kids skyrocketed and this is because not only was the idea of drug use being made public and thus entering the mind of kids more often, but they were being told that a lot of kids were doing it and that they should be outliers. This all basically supports the theory of “if you want something to go away, stop talking about it” which I highly endorse across the board.
Focus on What Your Student is Doing Right
Anyway, what does this have to do with you? Well this is important for your interaction with this student, because this tells you that your focus must not be on how the majority of the other kids are doing something wrong, but instead, it should solely be on what he can be doing right. So reminding him of the fact that he doesn’t have to do things just because others are doing them as probably having the opposite effect on him that you desire. At the end of the day, this is more about his social development and less about his education.
At his age, he’s likely more preoccupied with his ability to fit in than he is to make the most of his knowledge. By replicating the behavior he’s told – and more importantly he SEES – others are doing, he feels he will fit in, be part of the community in a way that seems most important at this stage of life, and gain some significance for himself.
Making him feel cool, like an insider, in a way that diverts his attention from what others are doing, is INSTEAD offering him tips on how to work well as an individual and separate his education journey from what he assumes to be the education journey of others. The social dynamics will likely have to fall into place on their own.
That being said, to a point, this is out of your jurisdiction. Yes, teachers can be great role models and mentors for students. It seems like you’re already fulfilling this role as well as you can and giving the student an opportunity to recognize his individual strengths and capitalize on them. I’m tempted to say that when it comes to him as an individual, you’ve done what you can and it’s time to trust in his parents and his peers to shape that part of him.
Supporting Positive Habit Formation
However, if you want to impact him and the rest of your students in a healthier way that is within the bounds of your classroom, I think there’s plenty you can do given what we just talked about with the anti-drug campaign and past episodes on habit formation.
For example, we now know that people, especially adolescents, act based on how others act, wanting to fit the mold. How can you exploit this and bring the whole class together to perform and behave better? Maybe it’s outwardly rewarding good behavior – they’re not too old for that. Maybe it’s focusing on one constructive thing you know the whole class wants but doesn’t necessarily act towards.
I have an idea – you can use it or not use it. But at least try to find your own spin-off. I’d bet that all your students would agree that they prefer to learn or learn better in a quiet environment. Maybe you give them all surveys to take privately; surveys with questions like, “Do you prefer taking tests and learning lessons when it’s A. Quiet, B. Loud, or C. Some Noise? – questions where you know their true desires would make for a better learning environment.
Then, assuming you get the results you want, you put them up in the classroom. The kids see a number saying 95% of you would prefer to take tests in silence. Presumably, this will prevent them from acting up during tests because visible numbers will be reminding them that acting up will go against everyone’s wishes and thus isolate them from the community. Something like that which brings together a healthy group approach and highlights healthy group desires from the get go. Hopefully the idea I’m trying to articulate is coming across, God knows I have problems with that sometimes. Words are tough.
Your Best Foot Forward
Now beyond that; beyond the deliberate approaches you can take with the students, I want to end by reminding you that you’re only 2 years into this. That’s very early on and I’m sure you’re still feeling like the new kid on the block amongst your coworkers.
I’m not saying you are or aren’t doing this, but do try to see the big picture and realize that these irregular attachments or favorite students are going to happen. It’ll probably be a running theme, and one of the many parts of the job you learn on site. Your skin will get thicker when it comes to this kind of thing, and a lot of the stress you’re facing now about trying to bring the best out of your students is stress you’ll naturally learn to leverage as your career progresses.
You’ll get better at understanding your limits, putting your best foot forward, and leaving it all in the room.
And that brings us to the end of 77, folks. Thank you again, asker of this question, for sending it in and giving us something new and fresh to take about. Like I said, I hope all the teachers and parents out there were able to take a little something from this even though it wasn’t completely in my wheelhouse.
You all know what to do, if you have your own questions, we’d love to hear from you and help you out on the show. You can email them to us at advice AT oldpodcast DOT com
We’ll take your questions there, do our best, and send you a free book from our collection if you’d like. Sounds good? Good. I appreciate you listening today, everyone and hope you’ll do the same next time. Have a great day, and I’ll talk to you then.