Experiencing success is crucial for students’ development. Ms Meera Devi Mahendran, who teaches at Assumption English School, shares how her students grew in strength and motivation.
Students value recognition. Often, they get pinned down by their flaws and shortcomings by those around them. Whether it is their behaviour or their academic abilities, many of my students feel constrained by the labels that others give them. When we, as educators, acknowledge their effort and achievements, no matter how small, it allows our students to have a taste of success.
When my form class was in Secondary 4, two teams participated in our school's annual Debate Championship. Only six students were participating in the championship, but I roped in the entire class for the research work. There were some who were sure that it was going to be similar to their Secondary 3 experience, where their classmates were in tears after getting thrashed by their opponents in the preliminary round.
What the students needed was for someone to tell them that they can do it. Many times, students' reluctance to participate is not so much due to their laziness but rather, a reflection of their fear of failure and disappointment.
With a lot of training and reassurance, both teams eventually went for the preliminary round, albeit with apprehension. One of the teams won. I cannot really describe the expression on the students' faces when they came out of the classroom and told me that they won that round. They were amazed, delighted, relieved and hysterical even.
When they cleared the next round, and qualified for the finals, it was not just those three students who tasted success, but the entire class, and a few others who watched them debate. The team eventually did not emerge champions, but that did not faze them because they had already won a long time ago.
That one success spurred them to push the team and their friends to work harder for their national examinations that year. I do not remember seeing them study that hard in all the three years I spent with them. I’d like to believe that all the small successes made the class believe that they had a chance after all.
Getting out of the pit of despair
The debate championship may have been a small event in the students' lives, but what they took away from it would stay with them for life. I hope that whenever my students reach a point in their lives when they question their ability to match up to others or to step out of their comfort zone, they would remember this little experience and reassure themselves that: “I have been there before. It is possible. I can too.”
Experiencing success helps students to gain the confidence that they need to step out of their comfort zone and dare to challenge themselves. That would, in turn, provide them with opportunities for bigger successes. This is a success cycle that is just outside the pit of despair. All the students need is a boost out of that pit.
As educators, we can help our students by believing in them. We need to also show them that we acknowledge their successes and they should too. We cannot expect miracles overnight, but we need to believe that each one of our students is a miracle waiting to happen.