(Just?!) Focus — Celebrating the Struggle We All Face

celebrate link upThis may seem to be an odd type of celebration post. But, I’m looking to the possibility in celebrating this point of view. Thank you to all who participate in #celebratelu on Saturdays and to Ruth Ayers as creator and host. Join us here.

Picture this: The job isn’t getting done. The paper is blank, the book is open to page two. The only thing happening is time passing. This might look like someone who is lazy or just doesn’t care.

Sound familiar?

Any student you know? But this isn’t a student I’m describing. This is me.

I don’t normally operate like this and I hate it (and myself) when I do. I question my ability and my purpose. Sometimes I get dramatic and question my right to take up space.  Most days aren’t like this.  Most days are so full that they could fill three days. But today is this way. At this moment, I’m extremely uncomfortable and unmotivated.

Strangely I’m treasuring this discomfort. I’m trying to soak it up and not forget it. I’m trying to figure out why I got here and what I do to get out of this messy place. I am the inattentive and/or struggling student right now, confused, distracted and unsuccessful —  I have to (fill in the blank), and  I don’t want to.

This lack of motivation and lack of success happens to us all. And for those periods of unease, life is not good. Life is unfocused and without purpose. You don’t like yourself.

As an adult, I know, based on previous success, that I will get out of this slump. But for a young person who has never found their way out of this kind of feeling, it is a how life goes. They are lost and they have been lost for a long time. What does that do to them?  What do we educators do for them?

Every year I have “those” students. Getting them to succeed takes a lot of work on their part. Their mindset needs a huge shift, and it starts with me. Sitting in their shoes is a good first step. That’s why I am holding on to my uncomfortable lack of progress on assigned tasks and asking myself — what might help me right now so I can help my students.  I’m looking to establish a stance, a mindset that approaches students with some basic assumptions, feedback and modeling. Here are a few ideas I’m holding on to when I work with those who struggle: 

1. Acknowledge the confusion and let students know you face it too.

2. Know and let students know that there is a way to succeed. It just takes time to figure out. Some need more time.

3. Be patient with students and by example, teach them how to be patient with themselves.

4. Model persistence, don’t give up on them just because it is hard and seemingly hopeless. (How must they feel if that’s how you feel?)  

5. Assume students have good intent and want to learn, they have just lost faith. It’s your job to show that you have faith in them.

6. Capitalize on their gifts. Notice and name the gems you see in them. Make sure they know you see their value.

And speaking of gifts check out this TED talk by a student who clearly was/is one of those kids,

Any other thoughts on shifting the discussion from “just focus” to positive feedback and modeling?

Here’s to a embracing the confusion.

7 thoughts on “(Just?!) Focus — Celebrating the Struggle We All Face

  1. I too teach “those” kids….by choice. When they “get it”….it’s a high (for both of you) like no other on earth! Yes, you have to embrace the confusion and the season of discontent.

  2. We do all have those times, and I’ve found the best way is to acknowledge that truth, and allow the space. I like all your list, but especially “Assume students have good intent and want to learn”. Too many teachers just think particular students are goofy, do-nothing. I don’t believe it. Deep inside they do want to succeed & it’s our job to get them onto another path, get them ‘un-stuck’! Great post!

  3. This seems to be my life as of late…not as the teacher, but as the student. I don’t know if it is the longer than usual winter, but I have been in a rut lately. It is nice to know that I am not alone. Hopefully with 60 degree weather on the horizon, things might change.

  4. I just finished reading Carrie’s post, now yours – both reminders to have more patience and understanding. A reminder that I needed. Thank you.

  5. Loved this entire post – #5 is so hugely important. I think our students feel our faith and sense our doubt even if think we are masking it. We need to show them that we trust, can be patient and believe. So amazing that you are being mindful of your own thoughts and feelings in this place. And – love the video! Thanks for sharing!

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