Let’s Help Students Believe In Themselves


“You this boy, you are a very lazy boy. What shows that your future is bright? Your parents have wasted their resources and finances to bring you to school”.

70% of almost every Ghanaian students have received these comments, one way or the other from their subject teachers or class teachers just because they failed in a test, class exercise or even a project work. These teachers sometimes go the extra mile of disgracing these students in public and humiliating them by sending them out of their class during lessons. As a concerned citizen and the love for an equal opportunity decided to ask this question… “Why do teachers treat their students badly when they are supposed to be the pillars to motivate these students become exceptional”. And this was the answer

“He will definitely complete school to go back to the street aimlessly”. This was the reason given to me by an Elective Maths teacher as to why he, as a teacher wouldn’t give extra help to a student who was working hard to solve mathematical problems.

Once my shock at this disturbing statement wore off, I realized that the teacher’s beliefs and assumptions were potentially jeopardizing the quality of life and future aspirations of this student. Bar none, problem solving skills are essential to life. And while there is absolutely nothing wrong with domestic work, what if this student wanted to become a cancer researcher or an airline pilot or a cartoonist? As educators, the most important—and rewarding—part of our work is to recognize the vast potential within our students and to help them see it within themselves, and then support them in reaching that potential.

In other words, we need to help them cultivate hope.

What is hope? Researchers have taken hope, a somewhat ephemeral concept, and made it practical. Hope is about one’s ability to achieve goals. It has been linked to greater academic achievement, creativity, and problem-solving skills, as well as less depression and anxiety.

Hope requires two components: pathways and agency. A “pathway” is a roadmap to reaching a goal, one that is created by the student and that includes alternate routes when obstacles arise. “Agency” is the student’s belief, motivation, and confidence that he or she can achieve the goal. While both pathways and agency are central to hope, new research being published soon by the journal Learning and Individual Differences suggests that agency might be the more critical part of the equation.

Dante Dixson and his co-authors found that “high hopers” (students high in agency and pathways) and “high agency thinkers” (students high in agency, but low in pathways) had better academic and psychological outcomes, including the belief about their chances of success in the future, when compared to “low hopers” (students low in agency and pathways) and “high pathway thinkers” (students high in pathways, but low in agency).

“Looking towards the future with positive expectations is a powerful force on the present as it affects present decisions, thoughts, and behaviors,” writes Dixson.

Thus, if students can cultivate agency—and, subsequently, hope—by believing in their potential success and examining how their current behaviors may affect their future, then they might engage more in school and persevere towards a more ambitious goal, especially when the road to that goal gets rocky.

Ways to cultivate hope

While hope researchers have created a fantastic method for developing students’ pathway abilities, cultivating agency is a bit trickier because it involves a student’s history, beliefs, self-concept, and motivations. That’s a complex psychological mishmash, at best, but even so most people develop at least some sense of agency. The key is to develop the student’s feeling of self-efficacy, or the belief that one can succeed in a task. According to Dixson, self-efficacy is the “can” phase of a task, whereas hope is the “will” phase. In other words, believing that one can accomplish a goal is vital to developing the will to do so.

First and foremost, educators need to create an emotionally safe learning environment. Students’ desire and motivation to learn and succeed are increased when they feel safe to take risks, make mistakes, and just flat-out fail, with no fear of humiliation, shame, or other unlovely repercussions.

Research on self-efficacy suggests that building on past successes is central to believing in one’s ability to achieve in the future, as is seeing others around you succeed. However, some students may not have many accomplishments to pull upon, or they may be growing up in an environment or society where, due to circumstances beyond their control, opportunities are scarce, obstacles are abundant, and success feels elusive. While there is no silver bullet that will solve all these challenges immediately, here is what i will leave all teachers to practice.

Always encourage students to be the best by reflecting on their past success. Even though not all students have past academic achievements, an alternative to making students better is making them feel important in class, school and in their personal life.

Secondly, give students equal opportunities and always be available when they need someone to approach. driving them away has been the cause of students seeking refuge and trust in their peers and this has resulted in peer influence (Most at times, in the bad way like: Smoking, Drinking and Stealing).



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