Don’t Just Believe In Kids: Believe UP

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.




Renewal. It means to make like new. Synonyms include words like restore implying returning to an original state after depletion, renovate as in repairing or rebuilding, and rejuvenate suggesting a restoration of youthful vigor, powers, or appearance. We renew library books, licenses, acquaintances, and vows. Holiday breaks renew our spirits; exercise renews our energy. Spring is the renewal of life after a long spell of winter. Our world is in a constant state of change and adaptation. Change comes in cycles of birth, growth, death, and renewal. Renewal is the acceptance of change.


John Goodlad said, “Most of us generally don’t pull up stakes and move simply because the paint on the windowsill starts to peel. And we don’t destroy our old garden and start over from scratch each time the blooms begin to fade. We do better when we exercise patience, ongoing care and while monitoring the effectiveness of that care, make adjustments where necessary. Such an approach, when applied to schooling, is what we call educational renewal.” In the words of John Goodlad, educational renewal is primarily designed for two purposes. First, renewal is to prevent current conditions from deteriorating and to address problems that arise. Secondly, school renewal aims to effect and sustain the changes that are desirable.


Educational renewal is never on a checklist as something that can be “done.” It is not a program, mandate, or initiative. It is not a mass produced package with instructions on how to fix problems by replacing what is currently happening in a school. Renewal is a way of being. School renewal includes all stakeholders- teachers, parents, secretaries, administration, custodians, librarians, students, bus drivers, etc. that collectively look at the school experience and inquire about what is working and what is not working. Everyone has a voice and ideas are shared on a regular basis. Alternatives to the status quo are examined, put into practice, and assessed to determine their impact.


The responsibility for change lies with those who can and must make the changes and who will also be affected by the changes. In a school setting, renewal may look something like providing more support and training for literacy instruction rather than replacing a whole reading program. It is different than a reform. School renewal is more about the continuous tweaking of behaviors that over time lead to a greater transformation much like a gardener prunes, weeds, and tends to other tasks that nurture the plants within a garden. And just as the soil must be primed and ready for a fruitful garden, a school’s culture must be primed and ready for risk-taking, open discussion, and change.


Unfortunately, developing a school culture that fosters school renewal doesn’t happen quickly and easily. It takes a courageous leader to clearly articulate and communicate a shared vision. Leaders must model and embody the values that they want to instill in others. They must be resourceful and understand how resources and budgets can be used to influence change strategies. Strong leaders must develop leadership skills in others by identifying strengths and finding opportunities for their staff members to lead. They must examine data, determine next steps, and evaluate the impact of those next steps. Leadership for school renewal can’t just be positional if long-term changes are expected to take root. Teacher leaders can influence the thoughts and actions of their colleagues to improve their practices. A culture where renewal thrives is created when engaging in inquiry, and reflective behaviors is a norm.


One of the greatest responsibilities of leaders is to foster a strong sense of self-efficacy in teachers and the belief that their purposeful actions can make meaningful changes in the lives of their students. Leaders must trust their teachers and communicate the belief that collectively, SMART goals can be achieved. They instill hope despite the obstacles and empower their stakeholders to create the conditions that will make educators more successful. The optimism, confidence, and determination of great leaders to persevere are infectious. Strong visionary leaders passionately inspire their staff to focus on what students are to learn and be able to do. Feedback about each student’s progress is timely and ongoing so that teachers can use the embedded structures to give students more support. Professional learning communities provide timely feedback to each teacher regarding student learning in comparison to other students so that teachers can identify their strengths and weaknesses with instruction. A PLC becomes more than just another educational acronym. The school becomes a place focused on learning. The school and the people within the school improve simultaneously. The message of “We’re all growing, learning, and improving our ability to ensure that every student is learning” is loud and it’s celebrated!


An ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, said: “There is nothing permanent except change.” As educators embrace the concept of renewal in their school, changes won’t seem so daunting. Those things that work and are valuable to a school community can be retained while at the same time promote the changes that will improve educators and their practices. Small consistent changes for improvement over time lead to a level of transformation and lasting effective change. Perhaps the most common metaphor for transformation is the metamorphosis of a caterpillar. Maya Angelou said, “We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” Simultaneous educational renewal is a transformation that benefits all stakeholders as they change and grow together.


Successful leaders in educational renewal efforts must rise above the common standard. As Goodlad stated, “Our schools today desperately need innovative leaders who can dust off the narrative that implores creation of a thoughtful public, as proposed by Thomas Jefferson, Horace Mann, John Dewey, and many other distinguished scholars. We need innovative leaders who are ready and willing to challenge the status quo, leaders who can influence others in pursuit of schools that engage all students in meaningful learning toward the ultimate purpose of creating a thoughtful public willing and prepared to work toward a healthy and just democracy.”


Sandy King is an inspiring 5th grade teacher leader and admin intern in Utah who has a passion for student achievement! You can read more by Sandy at