"The best gift you can give anyone is to believe in them." --Jeff Pulver
This was tweeted and retweeted by the attendees of Educon when they heard Pulver say it at a panel discussion on entrepreneurship. The educators who attend Educon are there because belief in children is a driving force in their teaching practice.
But...under what circumstances? What is the context of that belief? Does an adult typically say, “I know who you are, I understand your goals and your strengths, I know you can succeed and that is what I believe in?”
Or does an adult think “I tell you I believe in you because that will enable you to do this work that you are unwilling to do, don’t find relevant to your life and simply don’t care about?”
Pia Martin, a teacher at the Science Leadership Academy and a leader of the Educon session on Care For vs. Care About: Creating the Ethic of Care, told attenders, “I tell students, “I love you because you breathe.” She communicates her unconditional love to her students, and says, “I respect you, I’ll nurture you, I’ll care for you, because you breathe.” What is the basis, though, for this unconditional love? It's grounded in the faith that the student will bring whatever he/she has to the class. “If all you have is crap, I’ll work with that...People give you 100% of what you have on a given day, and sometimes all they have is crap, ”
Unconditional love for who you are, whoever you are, today, tomorrow, or yesterday. It starts with identity.
So which do you think teachers should bring to their classroom? Think about what the phrase means when students hear it.
“I believe in you!” says the teacher to the student. “I believe you can do this work that I have given you. You need to believe in yourself.”
“She believes in me,” says the good student. “I can do this. It has no meaning to me, but I’ll push myself harder. It will start to make sense, and I then I will learn who I am.”
“She says she believes in me,” thinks another student, “But I have no idea why. I don’t even know what I can do.”
“I’ll try,” says the anxious student. Looking down at his book, he thinks. “How can I get this stuff into my head? I just don’t understand.”
“You don’t believe in me,” thinks another student. “You don’t know me. You have no idea who I am.” He pushes the paper away and reaches for his iPhone.
“What does she want?” another student asks. “As soon as I figure it out, I’ll do it, and she’ll move on and leave me alone.”
“How can my teacher believe in me? thinks a fourth student. “Who am I?”
“I believe in myself,” says the self-aware student to the teacher. “I believe in what I need to learn, and this is not it.”
Or do we say to students, "I believe in you and base this belief on my knowledge of you and my acceptance of who you are and the work you find most meaningful."
Then the student thinks,
“My teacher knows me, understands my life and my goals, helps me follow the work that is most meaningful to me. She will not give up on me. In every sense she provides the support I need.”
The statement we heard from students at SLA most often is, “My teachers are really invested in my education.” It’s not a blanket, one-size-fits all belief. It is the product of a system that values the identity, the individuality of every student.