“I know you hate this, but let’s plow through.”
“I see lots of anxious faces out there.”
“This is really hard.”
I’ve heard many comments like these over the years. I’m sure I’ve said them as well. Why? When we say things like this, we are probably doing some or all of the following:
- Trying to reassure students/show empathy
- Acknowledging the difficulty of the work
- Acknowledging some student comments.
All of that is well-intentioned. We should find ways to put students at ease and to acknowledge that difficult work lies ahead.
But what else are we saying:
- “I don’t expect you to enjoy this.
- This is objectively anxiety-inducing.
- Hard ≠ enjoyable
Often, we are also saying much more about ourselves than our students. And, as we do that, we are taking away their chance to grow self-awareness and perseverance.
So, what can we do instead? Here are some possibilities:
- Swap out “hard” for “challenging”. We can all get excited about challenges, especially if we are encouraged to create plans to meet our goals.
- Instead of putting words like “anxious” into the atmosphere, use reflections to ask students how they feel about the work. We can use reflections before during and after the work to see how habits and attitude helped us to engage with the work.
- (I use a simple “smiley-face” self-assessment tool that can be modified for any purpose.)
- Try not to assume that all students think the same way about all work. What’s difficult or boring for one student may be thrilling and engaging for another. (To that end, we should try not to put our own biases about any type of work on our students!)
Here’s the bottom line: The more exciting we make the work, the more students will rise to our high expectations. So, go ahead—assign very challenging work. Tell kids it’s challenging, sure, but make sure they see how wonderful it is as well!