Updated: Apr 25, 2020
One of my students was recently accepted into university. An unlikely candidate diagnosed with ADHD and Auditory Processing Disorder, her high school dutifully explained that she was not meant for Cegep, let alone University. Instead, they suggested that she attend a trade school. She did not, however, concede to what she viewed as their low expectations, and, fast-forward three years, she received her university acceptance just two days after applying.
When I read the message revealing the news, I was so overcome with emotion that I cried. My tears were more than just joy. I cried because I knew that this was the ultimate ideal of what success meant to her. I also felt a sense of personal pride in her success and knew that it has been a long and difficult three years. But the most defining reason for my tears was because I knew that she was a success story and a role model for all families touched by academic and personal difficulties. She, along with many of my other students, have inspired and taught me so much.
Here are some of my favorite lessons about how to enable and support success:
Listen deeply. Students who are struggling need to be able to count on somebody who hears them. Listen to them, not just to their words but also their actions and their emotions. Listen to the feelings that they are able to communicate and to those that are more difficult to express. Validate how they are feeling, and sometimes just listen silently, without giving any feedback.
Earn the right to be trusted. Make sure that you follow through– do what you say you are going to do, no excuses. We hear it all the time—if somebody wants something to happen then they make it happen. So make the time. That is how you build a loving, hopeful, long-lasting and positive trust.
Celebrate the small victories. Share hope and provide a sense of accomplishment—these help individuals become empowered, successful and driven. Start by breaking tasks (academic and/or personal) into smaller parts and celebrate each small step as it is achieved. With repetition, students experience a boost in self-esteem as they realize that they can accomplish anything they set their minds to!
Find the silver lining. No matter what the situation, there is always something positive to take out of it. Help identify those positive elements so that students can learn from their experiences and enhance the way in which they view the world.
Stand up for what is right and fair. Teach students to advocate for themselves in a positive way by modeling what this should look like. Model how to be positive and polite, but firm and serious when asking for what is needed for success.
Support with your heart. Sometimes, the best support has nothing to do with taking action, but rather comes in the form of sharing feelings. Students need to feel that they are cared about and that someone believes in them. Don’t just assume that they know, make sure that they feel it. Never give up hope and become an invaluable and fearless cheerleader!
Even if a situation seems impossible, make sure to model dedication, perseverance and problem-solving with a positive, caring attitude. Just imagine if my student would have given up and decided not to enter Cegep? Who knows where she would have ended up!