Success feels different to all of us, and sometimes, we don’t even recognize success until long after we’ve achieved it! If we as adults struggle, how do our students know when they’re successful? Is it when they live up to someone else’s expectations, or when they attain a certain score or grade? These common definitions of “success” exist externally of our students, independent of their own definition of success. Invite students to tease apart the definition of “success” and take ownership of what success means to them.
First, we must define success with our students.
- Underscore that success can have an ongoing definition: what does success mean for you today? This month? This semester? This year? Allow students to revisit, like New Year’s resolutions, their success goals and allow their definition of success to change.
- Ask students to highlight a time they felt successful. If students feel daunted, challenge them to come up with the simplest, most personally meaningful time they can, like the time they read a whole book in a day.
- Host a discussion where students explore the part that failure plays in success. If we redefine success, doesn’t that mean we should redefine failure, too? What’s the difference between failing a test and Steve Jobs’ failing at his latest iteration of a computer?
- Consider sharing a time in your own life of growth. Even better if it’s something small—you’re getting more sleep, you’re reading more, you’re listening more than you’re talking—because it shows students that success can be small.
After defining success, we must ensure that our students feel equipped to pursue it. If success is ongoing and goals evolve, how can we promote and recognize the pursuit of success?
- Allow students a space to record and legitimize their different goals. Too often we ask that they set academic goals, but what about the rest of their pursuits? Recording our goals makes them easier to revisit! Put on some music and give time for students to journal, sketch, or type up their goals, whether they are:
- Public or private
- Personal or academic
- Introspective (self) or relational goals.
- Once these goals are set, ask how you can help hold them accountable. Would they prefer a mentor/mentee relationship with an older classmate? Would they like to group up and have regular meetings on their goals? Would they like to check in with you, either face-to-face or via a journal? Do they simply need to be given private time to revisit their goals and meditate on them?
- When success is achieved, how do students want to be recognized? A small, private congratulations? A letter home to parents? Or would they rather have a quarterly class celebration?
- Many of these preferences—recording goals, ensuring accountability, receiving recognition—can be established in a class survey, either via SurveyMonkey, Google Forms, or a paper copy. The survey itself signals to students that you are an advocate for their agency in their own success.
Have other ideas of defining and promoting success in the classroom? Let us know in the comments below!