How Students Define Success

So it’s a bit more than a month into the school year and too many of our middle schoolers (admittedly mostly 7th and 8th graders, not as many 6th graders) have already been saying:

–this is too hard
–why do we have to learn this
–I can’t read/write a whole page
–8th grade s*cks
–my last school wasn’t this hard
–I’m not good at anything
–I know I failed/I’m going to fail
–I’m not going to graduate
–everyone hates me
–I’m going to have to retake math next year
–etc etc etc…repeat until the emotional exhaustion from hearing constantly negative and defeatist attitudes wipes you out

It has been incredibly frustrating to listen to this almost every day (especially when it’s the same student), and in previous years I’ve tried being supportive, encouraging, I’ve acted as a mediator, I’ve been patient with them, I’ve tried telling and showing them different points of view, I’ve told them stories from when I was their age and that things DO get better, but in the end, there’s usually no convincing them that this one math test won’t ruin their lives, or that reading or writing 5 paragraphs is NOT in fact the hardest thing they’ll have to do in their lives.

One day I decided enough was enough.  I put “Success is…” on my bulletin board and told my students to write the end of that sentence on a piece of paper I had given them.  They could think about success in terms of school, sports, personal life, absolutely anything.  They wrote things like:

–getting all A’s
–having a million dollars
–learning from mistakes
–making a new friend
–standing up for myself
–never giving up
–making both free-throws
–following my dreams
–keeping promises
–taking risks
–doing the best I can
–getting better than a 75 on my next test
–standing up for someone being bullied
–and much more…

how students define success

how students define success

Every girl in every class contributed to this bulletin board.  I was really proud of them for having such diverse thinking on what success can look like.  We then had a conversation about not letting the bad days get the best of them, especially when there are so many different ways to feel successful.  Now they have seen it’s easier than they realize to balance out the daily middle school frustrations they experience.  If they had a bad math class, they can find success in volleyball.  If they had a bad volleyball match, they can find success by having a fun dinner with their family, or by answering a question in class, or by doing anything that they had said on the bulletin board.

Right before the semester ends, they’ll make a “how I have succeeded” bulletin board so they can reflect on the semester and how they (hopefully) grew and succeeded.

I’d love to hear about how you help students in similar mindsets, you can leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments 🙂


2 replies »

  1. Love this! Definitely could see myself doing something like this at some point. I started off the year with a conversation about history and why it is important for us to learn it. The students provided their own answers and then made posters. I have hung many around the room to remind them throughout the year that they themselves told us it was important for us to be learning about history.


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