Americans have a long tradition of throwing money at a problem. Our focus on the government budget is just one example. But money does not resolve every problem, or even most problems. Andreas Schleicher, in his TED talk goes into great detail about data mining and the findings as a result of research done on education systems from around the world. What he found was that money does help education, up to and including a certain point. Basic supplies and well paid teachers are very necessary to a good classroom. However, he goes on to explain that at a certain point, money does not improve education, the way money is spent is the deciding factor. In America, we have surpassed the level at which money improves education, and yet education has not improved as rapidly as in other countries.
So what can we do to graduate productive students ready for the real world? Angela Lee Duckworth completed an interesting study in which she talked about hard work, what she called “grit,” and how this trait can be the difference between a productive individual and an unproductive individual. Surprisingly, however, the findings showed that the students who did well in school never developed this “grit,” simply because they didn’t know what it was like to have to struggle. Instead, the students with “grit” were those who struggled. These are the students who succeeded in the real world.
So how do we create a work force with “grit?” While some personality traits and personal interests do assist students in school, there is nothing that should prevent a student from doing well in school. In my experience, the most common factor in whether a student will succeed in school and in life is the students’ belief that he or she can succeed. There are other factors, money, other aspects of home life, etc, but I firmly believe that any individual who believes he or she can succeed will succeed.
Support at home cannot be controlled. Teachers can send emails and letters home every day about the role of support, but if a parent or guardian is working multiple jobs, or is simply disinterested, nothing can be done at home. Support at school can be controlled. Placing students in the optimal learning environment, doing one on one work, not comparing, and celebrating goals met are all ways to facilitate a more supportive school environment.
This is all easier said than done. But we need better teachers, we need go pay the profession better to better motivate teachers. We need to do more research on how to discover the best learning environment for each student. There is no one solution, smaller classrooms won’t fix it for everyone, technology won’t fix it for everyone, we need to be able to observe a student and know how he or she learns and produces best.
What do you do to motivate and support your students?