Help your students challenge themselves

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In my last blog, I talked about the challenge of “Doing Hard Things.” I have found in being a parent and a teacher, that when a student pushes themselves a bit farther, the result is a greater pride in their work. As teachers, it is often tough to balance between trying something too hard that leaves the student frustrated, and something challenging that leaves the student with a sense of pride. We don’t start with formal portraits or sonnets. We follow the guideline from the movie “What About Bob.” We take baby steps. Build on small successes, but keep moving forward.

However, if you don’t challenge your students, they often don’t take pride in the project. Each year my children compete in the National History Fair. In viewing the competition, the students who stand a little taller by their displays are the ones that have a sense of personal pride. These students were not minimalists, These students pushed themselves a bit. I am the director of Speech and Debate at Utah State. We compete in a conference against 25 other colleges and universities. We are a state school. Our competition is often the larger and more prestigious Pac 10 Schools or the small private liberal arts schools. However, my students have taken the  conference for eight straight years. Are my students any different than our competition?

In reality, their ACT scores are probably lower than those of our competition. The difference is what I expect of my teams. I expect excellence and they rise to the occasion. Whether we win or lose, my expectation is that each student do their best. When I teach the same contest to my middle scholl debate teams, the result of teaching hard things?

We have taken the Utah State Championship two out of three years. So often, we have packets of poems or selections of art, where I know that the teacher did not attempt to “Do Hard Things.” The teacher did what was easy and comfortable. I challenge you to work with your students and push them just a bit farther that they thought they could achieve. You would be surprised by what they can do. Create projects that they can look back and say “It was hard. But I did it!”. Those moments often transcend the classroom and create successes that are carried throughout life. Have an awesome day.

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