Making Students Feel Successful

Eleven ways to ensure that your students feel successful in the classroom.
As people, humans really, we all feel the need to succeed at whatever it is we are doing. As teachers, I think we identify with this trait especially well, because I have never met a teacher that didn't want to be the best that they could be as well as encourage the students around them to do the same.

With the addition of teaching about growth mindset in so many of our classrooms, it is important for us to remember that while our students are working towards big things, it is vital that we celebrate the little accomplishments too. Basically, we all need to experience at least tiny bits of success along the way to keep us going.

In order to make this happen, especially when the going gets tough, here are eleven ways to help students find the success that they crave.

Peer Support

I have always preferred to group my students so that they have built in support in their table groups. This means that I seat a high student next to a medium low student and across from a medium high student who is seated next to a low student. Got that? What ranks a student is pretty arbitrary, especially since what makes a student high in one content area may be their downfall in another. 

Once students are grouped they are able to provide support to one another. This support might look like buddy work, team work, or even just being able to ask one another a question while working independently.

Another GREAT way to incorporate peer support into your classroom is through the Jigsaw Method. This activity allows students to have the support of their peers, all while becoming the expert in their content area. Talk about a confidence booster!

Don't Put Students on the Spot

No one likes to be put on the spot, and when a student is already struggling it can be a real double whammy. Instead, let a student know before hand that you expect them to have a response to at least one question during the class discussion. If a student needs a little extra support, you can even let them know ahead of time the type of questions you will be asking. 

This allows the student the time to get their thoughts together, and provides a moment for the student to shine in front of their peers.

Private Feedback

Another thing no one likes is to be corrected in front of their peers, especially when they are already feeling down on themselves. By taking the time to provide private feedback the student will really feel that you are on their team, and you can work together to form a plan of action. Of course a discussion is a great way to provide private feedback, but you might also consider hand signals or notes.

Create an Environment Where Risks are Celebrated

This one is tough, but oh so worth it! Make your classroom into a place where students are able to take risks and not worry about humiliation or being corrected harshly. In order to become problem solvers, our students need to make mistakes and learn from them in order to improve. 

I have found that the best place to start this kind of practice is in small groups. I will use phrases such as: "I see where you were going there, and I hadn't thought of doing it that way." or "I like your way of thinking about this problem." Then gently guide students through any misconceptions. 

The BEST is when you hear students start to speak to one another this same way!

Compliment Effort, Not Results

I know there is a lot of research out there for both sides of this argument, and I am firmly in the "Not everyone wins," camp, but I don't think there is anything wrong with complimenting effort. After all, some of our greatest inventions have been born out of complete failures. 

I love to share the story of how Post-It Notes were born out of a failed glue experiment. This usually really hits home with my students seeing how we used sticky notes for everything, all the time.

Highlight Strengths

Eleven ways to ensure that your students feel successful in the classroom. Every student has strengths, we just have to be willing to look for them. Some students' strengths may be purely academic, others have amazing social awareness. Highlight these strengths by using them as peer models for your other students. 

This concept is a win-win for the whole class. Your model gets confidence boost, and the rest of the class has someone to go to for help that isn't the teacher.

Nonverbal Signals to Check for Understanding

When a student is really struggling it can be hard for them to ask for help, yet that is the very thing they need most. When I see this is happening repeatedly with a student I find a private time to talk to them. Usually what I find is that they are not comfortable asking for help in front of their peers, even in a small group. We work together to make a plan to help them ask questions, and that plan always includes nonverbal signals to check for understanding.

I usually have the students come up with their own signals, but often we wind up with the same style that includes a thumbs up, thumbs down, and an open hand for maybe. Every once in a while a student will come up with a really unique one which is always fun.

High Expectations

Create high expectations for your students from the very first day of school, and be really verbal about. Also be very forthright in letting them know that you know they can do it too. I always liked to give a little speech to my students about how I had hand picked them out of the entire grade level because I knew that they were just right for our classroom. 

By letting my expectations be known from the very beginning and never lowering them, but also providing clear encouragement my students always rose to the occassion.

Celebrate Small Victories

School is tough. It is tough on us and tough on our students, so celebrate the little things in life. The class made it through lunch with a good report? 30 second dance party! Everyone turned in their homework? Shoes off for the day! A student who has been really struggling with a concept had something click? Compliment circle time! 

There are really no victories too small to celebrate, so take a moment and do just that. You won't refret it!

Break Up a Task

Sometimes what we have to do can just be overwhelming, so help a student to break it down a bit. This might mean folding the paper so that only certain items are showing, using a highlighter to select particular items, or only giving partial directions until each step is complete. For more ideas, check out this post I wrote on 8 Ways to Differentiate a Worksheet over on Classroom Tested Resources.

Teach Positive Self Talk

Positive self talk is something that I still struggle with being an adult. It is easy to get down on ourselves and let the negative feelings take over, but it is very counter productive too! Instead model what positive self talk and the power of the word "yet" look like for your students. 

At first, I admit that I can feel silly trying to pump myself up, but I relate it to how athletes psych themselves up before a big game or match and that always gets my students pumped about it too. Plus, it gives me a chance to show them this oh so adorable video! 

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