Don’t Just Believe in Kids: Believe Up

As teachers we are in the game of believing in kids.

How we show our students we believe in them matters. I don’t know about you but I see a lot of motivatonal phrases in tweets, in blogs, in commercials, and on classroom walls. Many of them include the word “believe”


“Believe in your dreams”  “I believe in you”  “Don’t Stop Believing”


Are these phrases enough to inspire our kids to believe in themselves so they walk out of high school into their futures as confident learners and leaders?


Just “believing” in kids is not enough.


What does it mean, to “believe” in kids? Do we believe in their ability to be compliant in school? To get good grades?  Or do we believe in their ability to achieve great goals in their future? Could they then change the world ? It seems to me that our “belief” in kids can suffer from present-day bias. We need to take it up a notch.


Viktor Frankl’s 4 minute 1972 speech that’s now a Ted Talk prompted me to reframe my thoughts around of the word ‘believe.’ When I watched this grainy, black and white 1972 video of the heavily accented Viktor Frankl, I almost clicked out of it. Be patient and watch it. Trust me.


Viktor Frankl says we need to ‘believe’ in people in an additional and expanded way.  


We must Believe UP

When I got to the 1:20 mark, things became clear. With an airplane metaphor, a chalkboard and some humor, Frankl said we must be idealists when we interact with people. He said we must overestimate others rather than view them as they currently are. That made me pause, nod my head, and also question my own views. Realists may challenge this as soft and imprecise. We live in the present moment and should deal with behavior from that viewpoint. Viktor Frankl says the opposite. He says we must be dreamers in order to help kids realistically grow into their biggest potential. Idealism creates capacity for positive reality.


For teachers Viktor Frankl’s call to idealism means we treat every child as if they are already the person they are capable of becoming – their larger and beautiful superhero self. If you believe UP in your students, you empower them to walk confidently in this world, knowing they are worthy and valued. You give kids a good shot at self-actualization in the future.


If we only see in students what they are acting like at any given point in time, they have no room to grow into their potential. They stagnate.


“Thank you for believing in me.” I bet you’ve had a student tell you this before. They don’t know why you believed in them, because they didn’t deserve it–at the time. Believe UP. See them as they can be.  And by the way, it’s not enough to think it. You have to say it and show it often, through words and body language. Tell them what you believe they can be or do. They’ll grow into it.


Hack our Perspectives

What if every teacher, every year, walked into his or her class and saw a room full of the most gifted kids in the world with the greatest potential and the greatest capacity for learning? Would this be ideal? Yes! How often do we get overwhelmed and manage behaviors rather than grow kids into their potential? How can we set ourselves up to spark potential every day, as frequently as possible?


The greatest gift you can give a child is to believe UP in them–believing in what they are capable of even if they’re showing the exact opposite.


Ideas to Go

*Most school schedules are not inherently setup to support time to interact with kids to help grow them into their potential! Personalized notes, special lunches, handshakes, morning meetings, special events you plan with love — all allow positive feedback loops! We must plan dynamically as teacher/school teams to Believe UP in kids.


*Students do not all act like their larger, greater, superhero selves. Students can be frustrating, as can humans of any age for that matter! They are still beautiful souls with great potential and that is who we must see and interact with.


*Distinguishing social, emotional, and behavioral teachings (also known as discipline) from belief is something that should be delineated. These concepts need not be at odds. Belief and love at the center. Always.


*Kids in trauma may have no one at home who sees their larger self. Teachers and schools are trying to launch trauma-sensitive programs. Believing UP in these kids, as with all others, is a great gift to give them!


It is the honorable goal as educators to rise above emotions, to align our actions, body language and words with the greater good, showing kids that, no matter what, we see and believe in their greater selves! Don’t just believe, believe UP.


Laura Gilchrist is a Teaching/Learning coach at a high school in Kansas City, Kansas who spent 20 vibrant years as a middle school science & social studies teacher, doing PBL and storytelling from her room. Read more by Laura here.

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