Motivation Killed

What Kills Student Motivation? We Asked Them.

“What are your thoughts on student motivation?” my principal recently asked. Knowing that I have an interest in motivation, as well as a love of working with at-risk students, he wanted to know my thoughts on why our achievement gap wasn’t narrowing.

As a teacher, I of course had many thoughts. But, the many thoughts I have on student motivation are just that: my thoughts. And, ultimately, the thoughts that matter most are the students’. So, rather than dive into a discourse of which I was not the best source, I asked my principal a simple question: Why don’t we ask the students?

So, we did.

We sat down with my group of at-risk sophomores – a large majority of whom were in our bottom 30% academically. The stage was set for these students to be completely open and honest; nothing they shared would have a negative influence on their experience in school. They were given a few days to think about factors that affect their motivation in school.

What we had intended to be a quick conversation sparked a deep discussion consuming the whole 70 minute period. Out of the whole conversation, many themes arose – themes worth sharing to a larger community because change begins with understanding.

1. Grading pitfalls

For a struggling student, falling into a pit with a low-grade – without systems to recover – is a recipe for learned helplessness. Many students remarked how frustrating it was to struggle in a class and reach a point where their effort wouldn’t matter.

The most common motivation killers were:

A) Heavily weighted assessments

We all know that not all students who show understanding of content and work hard on assignments, only to bomb tests because of cognitive challenges, stress, or any other host of “test-taking factors.” More than a few students said things like, “I hate how I can be doing well on all my assignments and projects, then fail a test, and all of a sudden I’m failing the class.”

B) No opportunities to revise or re-submit

Surprisingly, students weren’t griping for those finals week extra credit chances to inflate grades at the end. They wanted chances to revise tests, essays, and assignments throughout a class. They wanted chances to turn things in late – even with penalties.


So what?

My realization here was how much grading practices can contribute to learned helplessness. It makes sense: If I don’t feel like my effort will be enough to help me pull myself out of a failure pit, then what’s the point? As a teacher, then, I must consider what opportunities I can provide – such as revision opportunities – that shift students back into an internal locus of control.


2. Lecturing

Students talked often about how often their teachers talk. Despite an educational culture that is putting the focus on students doing the work of learning, many students discussed teachers who talk the entire class period. They stressed how hard it is to stay motivated when they just sit and listen. One of the most common suggestions students gave for helping motivation was hands-on opportunities. They even acknowledged that not every lesson can involve a lab or project. But, they said they’d at least like to be able to talk and share their ideas or practice on their own more often.

So what?

Stephen King once received great feedback from an editor who rejected one of his early writings. The editor said, “2nd draft = 1st draft – 10%.” What if we approached our lectures similarly? “What I say = What I want to say – 10%” Even a 10% shift towards student response opportunities could be a great start to keeping brains active and motivated.

3. Poor explanations

We pressed students often to focus on solutions rather than gripe about specific teachers. In doing so, we realized another theme: Students lose motivation when they don’t understand.

Seems like a no-brainer. But, the learning here is that teachers aren’t intentionally trying to destroy student understanding. Just the opposite was true: Teachers were trying to help students “get-it,” but the understanding was lost in translation. Among the most common comments were:

“I hate when I ask teachers to explain something again and they say, ‘Weren’t you paying attention!?’ They assume I was being lazy but I really was trying. It just didn’t make sense.”

“I can’t stand when I say something doesn’t make sense and the teacher explains it exactly the same way they did the first time. After they keep doing that, I don’t even bother asking.”

So what?

I’m a huge fan of John Hattie’s work, in particular his urging teachers to get more feedback from students and to be conscious of knowledge gaps. My learning is to a) ask for feedback more regularly on my ability to explain concepts and b) ask students what they do understand before trying to re-teach – next time in a different way.

4. Content

Relevance, relevance, relevance. A major factor in student amotivation was feeling like the content was either not useful or too challenging. This is nothing new to teachers: We all have students who ask, “What’s the point of this.” Yet, the answer we give is important. Students commented that “You’ll need this for your next class/college” is more annoying than helpful. They want relevance now as well as in the future. They want it to be relevant to their lives not relevant to our lives.

In addition to the relevance concern is the scaffolding concern. As an ELA teacher, I asked my class what percentage of the content we read is interesting to them. The average? 10%. I then followed up asking what percentage of the content we read was too difficult to understand independently. The average here? 15% Imagine the effect on motivation when the content is both dreadfully boring and dreadfully challenging.

So what?

I need to ask some tough questions about my content. Yes, there are things beyond my control that I must teach, but I must look at what I can control and work from there. For example, it’s easy to get frustrated and angry when kids don’t come in the next day having completed their reading homework. But, do I really expect them to trudge through something that is boring and beyond their ability at home? Can I do a better job of coaching their reading in class and/or finding resources that are more relevant? Yes.

5. Lack of respect and lack of joy

This was THE most discussed topic that hurt student motivation. Over and over students described how much a respectful classroom environment affected their willingness to work hard and learn. The frustration could be summed up in one students’ statement: “They expect us to act like adults but treat us like children.”

My biggest shock came from a survey my principal gave the class. He asked two questions:

– Of the teachers you’ve had in this school, what percentage do you think like their job?

– Of the teachers you’ve had in this school, what percentage do you think like kids?

The average of both answers? 10%

So what?

To any teacher, these answers would be frustrating. We could point to any number of justifications for why students might feel this way, such as, “Kids today think they deserve respect rather than having to earn it first.” As I’ve heard before, though, blaming and justifying are like rocking chairs: They give us something to do, but don’t get us anywhere.

So what do we do? I again return to the value of surveying student perceptions often, getting consistent, honest feedback. Just as no quality teacher is intentionally trying to teach content poorly, no quality teacher is trying to disrespect students. There is simply a miscommunication.

At the end of our discussion, I had more questions than answers. There were still so many things I wanted to know about each student’s motivation. But, to get there, the process of understanding has

1. Ask for truth

“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” – Gloria Steinem

2. Improve my teaching accordingly

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” – Aldous Huxley

3. Repeat

“If [a method] fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” – F.D.R.

What action steps will you be taking this coming year to create more motivating contexts for your students?

This post originally appeared on  If you haven’t checked out this great site for teachers, do so now!

Photo courtesy of -- a great site for stock images.

Survive your upcoming school year with Staff Meeting BINGO!

It’s coming. Soon. Before you know it, we’ll be back in school trying to bolster up our mental fortitude for that one reoccurring event that taxes our patience and our joy: The dreaded staff meeting. Soon we’ll be jammed into a library or cafeteria, forced to awkwardly create those collegial good vibes and hurrahs.

If you’re like me, you sometimes find yourself wanting to jam a spoon in your eye to release the angst you feel at a typical staff meeting. Rather than give yourself a trip to the hospital, give yourself the gift of entertainment with Staff Meeting B-I-N-G-O.

The rules are simple.

The first rule of Staff Meeting B-I-N-G-O: Don’t talk about Staff Meeting B-I-N-G-O.

The second rule of Staff Meeting B-I-N-G-O: Don’t talk about Staff Meeting B-I-N-G-O

Next, find a couple trustworthy, snarky colleagues to join you. These cats must have a sense of humor.

Prepare your B-I-N-G-O board. Fill each square with words, phrases, and observations you predict you’ll experience in the meeting. My personal favorites are:

– “Rigor”

– “Data”

– “Student-centered”

– “College/Career Readiness”

– “Research shows . . .”

– “In MY classroom.”

– A colleague asleep

– A coach planning practice

– A technology fail

At the meeting, be sure to channel your inner-Frodo and keep it secret, keep it safe.* Others will scoff at how attentive you are and wonder why you are taking such feverish notes. Keep your chart on the down-low – unless you’re sitting next to the colleague who fell asleep. In that case, you’re safe from scrutiny.

You’ll also need a secret move to indicate a BINGO. Maybe you drop your keys on the ground. Maybe you get up to use the bathroom. Maybe you ask the presenter, “Could you elaborate?” Whatever you decide, make sure your B-I-N-G-O opponents are aligned.

To ensure a fair game, no spoon feeding for responses. Sure, you could ask your administrator, “What does the data show?” and get bombarded with all the words on your board, but what’s the fun in that?

Make your life even easier by downloading a free Staff Meeting B-I-N-G-O Board and list of common words, phrases, and observations.

Staff Meeting BINGO Free Download

And don’t forget, losers buy the winner a week’s worth of beverages to drown the pain of this month’s meeting.

*Note: Chase Mielke is not liable for any loss of employment, respect, decency, or integrity that results from playing Staff Meeting B-I-N-G-O

A Graduation that Taught Me About Student Resilience

My favorite event of the school year is graduation. But it’s not the graduation you are picturing. I love the graduation ceremony of our local alternative high school, the kind of school at which many teachers scoff.

You know the one: filled with the “problems” and misfits that weren’t smart enough, motivated enough, good enough to cut it with the “good students.” Why do I love this alternative graduation so much? Because it holds deeper meaning for those graduates.

It is filled with students who had been discarded. The caps and gowns are worn by mothers, fathers and grandparents walking the ceremony for their children and grandchildren. They are worn by graduates who battled illnesses and balanced full-time jobs just to get their diplomas.

And the crowd. The auditorium is filled with a diverse team of supporters, from the “People of Wal-Martwhose lifestyle our society mocks online, to philanthropic business owners, to a few former “regular teachers” who still hold pride for their past students.

What the ceremony, above all else, is help me realize how often I, as a teacher, treat high school as the easiest phase of life.

As an adult who has survived the battle of adolescence, I find myself downgrading – sometimes with a touch of smugness – the tensions of struggling teenagers. I think, “You have no idea how lucky you have it in high school! Stop whining and be grateful!”

What if, in downgrading their hardships, I am undermining their resilience rather than cultivating it?

I look across the faces of the two dozen students in my 10th grade English class, and I realize they possess life stories I have never experienced – not even as an adult. Maybe I don’t know what it’s like to be one of them because…

I don’t know what it’s like to be a freshmen and have my mother die from alcoholism.

I don’t know what it’s like to have to give up athletic passions – a decade of love and training –because my next concussion could kill me.

I don’t know what it’s like to be so overwhelmed with anxiety that I can’t get out of bed, to feel so much internal pain that slicing my arms open brings relief.

I don’t know what it’s like to have to hide my sexual orientation from my peers for fear of

constant mockery and humiliation.

I don’t know what it’s like to be fatherless, to be poor, to resort to selling drugs to help my mom pay the electric bill.

I don’t know what it’s like to have a lifelong learning disability, to have struggled over and over and over and over as a system passes me along.

I don’t know what it’s like to bounce from house to house as parents split over drug addictions and prison sentences, to be treated like a kid but forced to parent young siblings.

These are just a handful of lives that walk through my door 2nd period each day. Yet, how

often do I think things – say things – like, “Well, if you had spent your time reading last night you wouldn’t be failing this quiz” or “You’ll keep struggling until you put school first?”

My priorities are not their priorities. The fact that some of these kids even show up to my class – even if it’s a few minutes late – could be worth my gratitude rather than my condescension.

Yet the fact that some of these kids are dealing with hardships I have never imagined is no reason to coddle them. It is no reason to pity them – no reason not to hold them to the standard I know they can attain. They are tough. They are gritty. They are resilient.

I still believe that school can awaken a future beyond their current nightmares. I still honor school as an arena to build social skills, life skills, and learning skills, and that a high school diploma need not be a final step. I still know that what we do as teachers matters – more than ever.

But, I must recognize that rigor and compassion are not dichotomies. Consequences and caring can co-exist. I need less lecturing and more listening, more empathy and less assumption.

If I – if we – respected their lives of resilience rather than criticizing their cries of discontent,

maybe, possibly, the experience of school wouldn’t be so daunting. Maybe, possibly, those caps and gowns would remind us how honorable it is make it to that graduation stage, no matter what the path.

This post originally appeared on a great site dedicated to improving how people at all levels discuss and improve education.  


Courtesy of ThinkStock

7 Ninja Moves for Increasing Academic Risk-Taking

We sometimes find ourselves in a culture of product-based praise. The A’s, the high test scores, the right answers: These are our educational celebrities. But we lose ​sight of the process, the effort, the risk it takes learners to achieve those great scores and grade point averages. In doing so, the message is sent: The product is worth more than the process. If we want more effort from our students, we need to be more intentional about the value of process and risk in our classrooms.

Unfortunately, many of us think​, ​”Oh great, another set of lessons and plans I have to use in order to focus on effort. ​…” Au contraire. Fostering a culture of academic risk-taking doesn’t have to be a major classroom shift. We can cultivate risk-taking and effort like ninjas, focusing on process subtly with a few sweet, simple teacher moves.

Here are seven implicit moves for boosting academic risk-taking:

1. Mind Mining

It’s bad teaching to acknowledge a bad answer. We do a disservice when we praise wrong answers. So, rather than give that awkward “Yes … good effort …,” we can mine their minds to acknowledge their thought processes.

Ask students mining questions like “What led you to that answer?” or “Walk us through how you got to that idea.” In diving deeper, we not only unravel metacognition but also allow more authentic moments to praise the process (and correcting misconceptions). For example, “Terence, you did a great job connecting Gatsby’s personality to what you know about people in love. I don’t know if we can jump as far as to say he is a murderous lunatic … but you’ve helped us connect a character’s emotions to his behavior.”

2. Elaborate

If a student doesn’t have a correct answer, we can still get there while acknowledging the process as a learning group. Follow up a response with a “call to elaborate.” Open it to the class with questions like:

– Who can help us dive deeper?

– Who can add?

– Who can adjust this?

Acknowledge all contributors, including the student who got the ball rolling, with responses like “I love how we worked as a group to get a deep, accurate response here. Thank you, Brenda, for your risk in getting us started and thank you, Serrina and Kaysi, for taking your own risks to elaborate.”

3. Divergent Blast

Create a culture of risk taking by prepping a divergent blast. Tell the class, ​”When I say ‘blast,’ shout out all the solutions or ideas for our problem that you can. I’m going to collect as many as I can on the board. Don’t worry about right or wrong, just give your best effort. ‘Blast!'”

4. Think-Pair-Shares

Think-pair-shares are beautiful. Among the many benefits, they shift the ratio of work onto the students, they allow for a larger ​number of contributors, and they allow students to “try out” thoughts before posing them whole-group.

They are also one of the most effective strategies in cultivating effort and risk-taking. Think of the concept of inertia: Brains in motion tend to stay in motion. Brains at rest tend to stay at rest. Posing a pair-share gets students moving so that they are more likely to take the risk-sharing ideas in class.

Even if students don’t choose to share ideas after a pair-share, you can pull a teacher-ninja move: ​Eavesdrop on responses and then discuss whole-class. ​”In wandering around and creeping on your thoughts and answers, I overheard a group in the back corner talking about what part of the text is confusing. It was great to hear their honesty and they even pushed it further by bringing up the importance of context clues. After sending some air-fives to the back corner, let’s look again at what context clues can help us here.”

5. ​”What, So-What, Now-What” Acknowledgment

Useful for full-baked or half-baked responses from students, we help students link their efforts to positive results.

What – What you noticed, what a student said.

So what – Why their effort mattered, what traits they showed.

Now ​what? – What is their next step in growth, how their efforts/characters will help them in the future.


“I’m noticing a lot of puzzled looks on your faces and quite a few raised hands. It’s great to see so many of you take the risk and ask questions when you’re confused; you are taking control of your learning. Always raise a hand when you are puzzled. In the meantime, take a moment to write down your questions/confusions. We’ll share with partners and see if we have similar challenges.”

“Can we take a moment and acknowledge table three? I just saw every one of them take out their notes when they couldn’t figure out problem two and talk about some solutions. Not only are they using their resources, but they are using one another for support. Trust me: Taking risks and asking your peers for support is something you’ll still need when you start adulting after high school.”

6. Pre-Briefing

Acknowledging after academic risk-taking is not our only hope for cultivating a culture of effort. We can also prepare students for upcoming challenges. This can be done whole-group or individually.

Whole-group example:

“We are about to dive into our lab. I have seen students struggle in the past getting their measurements right. But you’re next-level students. Use your patience and triple-check your measurements. If it’s still not working, send a representative to me and ask for support. You won’t give up because scientific thinkers are flexible and persistent.”

Individual example:

(Pulled aside from group) ​”Alright Kyle, today is when we draft our essays. I know in the past drafting hasn’t been your strength, but we change that today. When you get stuck, you are simpl​y going to place this sticky​ note on the corner of your desk. I’ll check in with you. I also know you love to doodle along the margins to make it look like you’re writing. Not today. Today you upgrade because I’ve seen what you can do when you don’t quit on your writing.”

7. Model Mistakes

The best teachers I’ve ever known have all been humble: They admit their mistakes, they own the consequences and they make clear their own process of learning. Unfortunately, some teachers believe that “to err is to fail” as educators. In trying to present a perfect image as a thinker and teacher, we not only make ourselves less approachable by our students, we lose valuable modeling opportunities.

Whether it’s admitting a mistake in grading or giving directions or teaching content, owning our mistakes creates a huge shift in our classroom culture. But don’t simply say, ​”Oops, I messed that up.​” Clarify why you thought the way you did and how you will work to fix it. We don’t want students who will just admit mistakes. We want students who will own errors, understand why they happened and plan for repair. We are their best source of modeling, so own those errors!

Your turn. What are your favorite simple moves for encouraging academic risk-taking?

This post originally appeared on, a gem of a site for educators wanting ideas, resources, and humor to enhance their game.  Check it out!


Don’t Smile ’til Christmas: A Teacher’s Worst Advice

When I first started teaching, I actually gave stock to the garbage of an educational aphorism, “Don’t smile until Christmas.” I remember thinking, “I’m young . . . I look even younger. I need to lay down the hammer early so kids don’t mess with me.”

And there I was, reading the syllabus with a scowl. Emphasizing words harshly. Thinking that my increased volume would shock the youth into bowing to my authority. Puritan preachers had nothing on me. Had I been better at reading my audience, though, I would have noticed their confused expressions. What is this nut job all upset about? It’s day one…

Thankfully, I’ve learned to ignore the useless beliefs that “iron fists fuel learning.” I’ve come to realize – through practical experience and nerd-fest researching – that we should be giving teachers, new and old, the opposite advice: Don’t stop smiling . . . ever.

Smiling is arguably the most important and impactful nonverbal expression humans can use in social situations. So, let’s take a crash course in what smiling is and why it’s so important:

The Purpose of Smiling

Primates expose their teeth as a sign of submission. Perhaps this is where curmudgeonly teachers get their crappy advice about not smiling. Perhaps they think that we are still primates who, upon exposing our smile, submit to an onslaught from our foes. Good thing we are beyond our baboon beginnings.

For those of us who ascribe ourselves as “human,” smiling is an expression of social safety. It signifies that we are not a threat, that we are approachable, and that we wish to share positive emotion. If any of these ideas – safety, approachability, positive emotion – do not belong in the classroom, then, by all means, don’t smile.

The Effects of Smiling

There is ample research on the positive effects, internally and externally, of smiling often. Ron Gutman provides an engaging and informative summary here:

Let’s explore the benefits from an educational standpoint:

Smiling prevents perceived threat

Imagine you are scanning the brain of an adult as he or she sees a picture of a neutral facial expression. The part of the brain you would see light up would be the frontal lobe – our rational thought center. We are, in a sense, logically analyzing if this face is happy, sad, angry, etc.

Compare this to the brain scan of a teenager looking at the same photo. Which areas of the brain light up? The limbic system – in particular the amygdala which is processes emotion and perceives threat. In other words, teenagers are more likely to read neutral expressions or tones as threatening. Worse yet is the idea that when one is sleep deprived, this effect is strengthened. Read: You think you’re being normal and neutral. Sleepy teen thinks you’re being a jerk-hole.

The simplest solution: Smile more.

Facial Feedback Response

Theorized by good ol’ Charles Darwin, FFR suggests that cueing a certain facial expression can activate the feeling of that emotion. This theory has since been legitimized: We can fake it until we make it – or better yet, fake it until we become it as the great Amy Cuddy suggests about nonverbal influence.

Think about the power of this small idea. We can intentionally counteract sourness syndrome. Smiling, then, can not only affect our students; it can create a better experience for us as teachers. Joyful teachers = joyful teaching = joyful learning.

Smiling is contagious

As summarized in Ron Gutman’s TED talk, it is difficult to suppress smiling when seeing someone else smile. For example, try not to smile looking at this kid:

Some link this idea to the concept of mirroring – the process by which humans build rapport and mimic one another’s nonverbals. By smiling, we make it more challenging for our students to be a bunch of angsty grumps. Now, this doesn’t mean jumping around with exaggerated grins – doing so will just tick your kids off even more. A simple smile will do, please.

Smiling increases ratings of competence, sincerity, and sociability

Do we want students to see us as knowledgeable and competent? Yes. Do we want students to trust us and see that we are sincere in our intentions to educate them? Yes. Do we want to build rapport and have strong social trust in the classroom? Yes. All of these are beneficial for learning and management, and all of them can be increased by smiling often.

A joyful default makes management easier

The idea that smiling helps classroom management runs counter to the horrid advice to “not smile until Christmas.” However, picture yourself as a student. You have a teacher who smiles often (even if Ms. Grins is faking it). Then, after you and your classmates get a little unruly, that smile ceases immediately. Before the teacher even says a word, your brain has been cued to recognize the behavior as socially unacceptable. Your developing brain is improving its ability to read emotional responses. Compare this to a classroom in which the teacher normally scowls. You’re having to constantly worry about whether this pseudo-scizophrenic teacher is going to snap.

Smiling, therefore, makes it more clear to students what behavior is socially acceptable in our classroom and what behavior is not. In my experience, after developing a smiling default, my students know quickly when they’ve disrupted a social expectation.

For those who think, “I don’t smile. It’s not natural for me. I’m not going to be someone I’m not,” consider this. You were actually born joyful. It was who you were as a person – joyful, smiley, full of laughter. But, you allowed certain circumstances and people (probably a slew of grumpy “don’t-smile-until-Christmas” teachers) to change who you were and kill your joy. By smiling, you are cultivating who you used to be: a happy person who loved learning. So, cheese it up and bring a smile back to your life, your teaching, and your students’ learning.

This post originally appeared on  Check out the site for more great teaching resources: for teachers, by teachers.  



How Academic Risk-Taking Dies in the Classroom

Picture a baby. A fresh one. Straight out of the womb. It’s probably making a bunch of noise. It’s probably gross looking (let’s be honest: this whole “cute newborn” thing is a myth). Despite the grossness of this baby, it came into the world wired with a certain skill set.

On a résumé, this baby would probably list skills like:

– Defecation

– Crying

– Nonsensical noise making

– Breathing

– Sleeping

– Eating

That’s essentially it. In other words, this child has zero employable skills (Psssh … millennials these days …). But there’s another major ability this child has in excess: risk-taking.

We are born risk takers. We will do just about anything as babies, no matter what the outcome of the risk. Some of these risks are idiotic. Others are critical. Think of one of the most basic functions: walking.

Picture Baby A about to take his first steps. His parents are probably staring at him, rooting, clapping, smiling, videotaping. Now, this move will not bode well for Baby A, who will most likely crash to the ground in an uncoordinated thump. But Baby A don’t care. Baby A is a risk taker. And as the much anticipated fall happens, the parents no doubt scream and cheer rather than chastising their tot for failing.

What does Baby A do after this failure? Try again. And again. And again (at least until his parents can get that perfect Facebook-worthy video posted). Baby A will do this until he can walk. And voilà! We have learning. Walking is not the most employable skill, but we have progress, people.

This natural risk-taking is critical to development. And yet, at a certain point, we stop taking risks that help us grow. But we don’t stop taking risks because of physical danger (I once saw a kid kick himself in the forehead just to see if he could, so I can tell you physical danger is not an issue for today’s youth). We ultimately stop taking risks—positive risks that lead us forward—because of social danger. And so a critical question educators must ask themselves becomes: Are we creating a culture of academic risk-taking in our classrooms?

Take the common risk of answering a question in class. Imagine the growth potential if 100 percent of our students attempted to answer 100 percent of the questions we asked 100 percent of the time. But they don’t—at least not at the secondary level. There’s no physical danger in raising your hand in class, only social danger.

Many early elementary classrooms are teeming with kids who still own that innate risk taking. When my wife asks her second graders a question, I see dozens of hands shoot up, vying for a chance to answer a question. Kids are elbowing one another for space. Grunting increases.

A high school teacher asks a question and it’s a different story. Eye contact drops, faces contort in a pseudo “look-like-I’m-thinking” expression, and silence stalks the room. Maybe one brave soul will flick a subtle wrist with a half-inch raise of the hand, hoping he or she isn’t actually called on. We have witnessed a death in the type of risk-taking we want our young learners to practice. But such academic risk-taking didn’t die overnight.

Students lose this academic risk taking for many reasons. But one of the main reasons they lose it is because we create a culture of social danger in our classrooms. Here’s how:

We are more concerned with acknowledging the product than acknowledging the process.

With our hand-raising example it looks like this:

Teacher asks young child a question: “What’s the solution to the equation 6 divided by 2 equals …?”

Young child feverishly elbows out competition, certain of success.

Teacher: “Yes, Taylor?”

Taylor: “12!”

Teacher: “Nope. Sorry, Taylor. Who has a better answer? Marcus?”

Marcus: “3.”

Teacher: “YES MARCUS! Great job!” Maybe high-fives commence, anthems start playing, candy and Webkins get tossed to Marcus, celebrating his brilliance. Maybe not. Regardless, the teacher has lavished praise on the product of learning (right answer) over the process of learning (attempt at solving). A message has been given, however subtle: Right answers get rewards. The subtext is: If you don’t have the right answer, don’t try.

We know teachers don’t intend to send this message, but everything speaks. And putting product over process once doesn’t kill academic risk-taking. But imagine if this message is given implicitly over and over.

Whose papers are hanging on the walls? The A papers. Not the papers that have shown the greatest growth from draft one to the final draft. Who gets the shout-outs in the newspapers and at ceremonies? The kids with the 4.0s. Not the kids who have worked their tails off to make up for those freshmen 1.0 mistakes.

Are products important? Yes. We still need to ensure that our students are competent and not just confident. But we must consider how our over-focus on product often destroys the very process needed to develop the product itself.

Over the next couple weeks, let’s engage in a conversation about how to help our learners—all learners, from kindergarten through their careers—revitalize that child-like risk-taking that created a boom of development.

Next week, we’ll share ideas on how to quickly, easily and consistently foster safe academic risks. Until then, post your thoughts: How do you foster a culture of academic risk-taking?

This post originally appears on  Check out the site for great resources and ideas for teachers, from teachers.