Educators who believe in effort-based ability believe that all students can do rigorous academic work at high standards, even if they are far behind academically and need a significant amount of time to catch up. Educators who carry this belief into practice are not unrealistic about the obstacles they and their students face. They simply have not given up. And we know for sure that they will get results if they translate this belief into appropriate practice. (Saphier, 2005)
When you read the above quote, did you think of an Almadina teacher? I could go on, but the point is obvious: part of what makes Almadina great is the fact that our teachers believe in our students and will go the extra mile to ensure success for all learners. Schools like Almadina communicate on a daily basis that being smart is “something you can get” and not simply something with which you are born. In schools at which the faculty values effort-based ability, teachers constantly remind students of three crucial messages (Saphier, 2005):
- “This is important.”
- “You can do it.”
- “I will not give up on you.”
Have you ever had someone in your life that believed in you and consistently communicated to you that you were an able, valuable person who could and would do great things? In 1977, 38 years ago, my first ESL teacher at Crescent Heights High School was Jill Wyatt. Jill believed in me during a time in my life when—upon reflection—this must have been a rather gigantic leap of faith. Because of her faith in me, even against all evidence to the contrary, I forced myself to carry on so that I could achieve my goals.
You, too, will have this long-term impact on one or more of your students this year and the years to come. Believing that all students have innate capacity and that academic ability can be grown is a foremost tenet of professional learning communities. Obviously, we all are born with basic skills and abilities, but it is effective effort, not much the innate ability, that is the main determinant of achievement.
To demonstrate effective effort, however, students must understand the attributes of time, focus, resourcefulness, strategies, use of feedback, and commitment. (Saphier, 2005) These factors are extremely important to student success, and we must directly teach our students how to manage time, how and where to go when they are stuck, how to use feedback, and how to reap the rewards associated with hard work and perseverance. These topics must be accompanying into every curriculum standard we expect our students to master.
If we consistently send these messages to students regarding our belief in effort-based ability, our students—even those most at risk—will begin to believe in themselves and become motivated to be thriving members of our school culture based on aspiration and responsibility. Why? Because someone cares about them…someone wants them to succeed…they know what to work on in order to do well…they know what good work looks like and where their current performance is in relation to it…they know how to exert effort…they believe it would be worthwhile to do well…and they believe they are able to do well.
Once again this year, I charge each of us to a noble calling: to become some young person’s Jill, inspiring that student to levels of attainment even he or she is uncertain is reachable at this stage of life. This is important work…you can do it…I will not give up on you! Not giving up on our students is one of the many ways we teach with passion at Almadina!
Jamal El Rafih