Believing in Students

Back at the beginning of December I shared this picture on Facebook:


I don’t recall exactly what I said, but I do remember being quite struck by this. John Hodge, the speaker here at VASCD‘s annual conference, had spent a lot of time telling stories of several of the names on this slide. Up until this moment, however, the slide had lacked the labels at the top. The response on Facebook was concern that this suggested the savior mentality about teachers. In that moment I was unable to rally my thoughts and respond meaningfully and promised to write about it (with the intention and expectation that I would do so far sooner than now).

The way Hodge spoke about Mrs. Dawson did not strike me as fitting the savior idea, an idea that I do find quite concerning. He did not describe her spending long hours at school. The difference he talked about between Mrs. Dawson and the other teachers was her belief in her students. She told these poor Black boys (and their families) that they had the potential and ability to do whatever they wanted in life. According to Hodge, this was not a message they were receiving anywhere else.

I’ve come to the conclusion that all our talk of pedagogy, teaching strategies, and theorists means little without a belief in our students. The implicit bias (far too gentle of a term) that exists in all of us and is un-analyzed in too many is more harmful than round robin reading or rote memorization of algorithms.

If we could ensure that teachers truly believed that their students can learn and can succeed I think it would make for a huge shift in the education of many children.

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