One of the most difficult challenges teachers face involves motivating students who haven't yet committed themselves fully to academic pursuits, who may never before have had positive experiences in school, and who may not yet demonstrate the drive and work ethic required to be successful. Throughout my career I have incorporated "Quote of the Day" discussions into our morning routine and used storytelling to help motivate children, and these efforts have had a powerful impact on how students perform in the classroom. With some children, though, we need to take additional action.
This year, for the first time, I started creating personalized, inspirational visuals for some of my students. When I made the first one for a child who was having an extremely difficult start to the year, I knew that his favorite football player was Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch. Normally tough to tackle, Lynch frequently takes his game to the next level and gets into what's known as "Beast Mode," where he's nearly impossible to bring down. I thought "Beast Mode" would be a perfect new nickname for this child, as it exemplifies the active, determined, unstoppable mindset I was trying to help him adopt as a student.
Creating the visual was a lot of fun and didn't take that long. After finding images of the Seahawks logo, Lynch, and our team name (THQ) on google, I located a photo of my student (at his best) working at his desk. (Note: In the display image, for privacy reasons, I substituted a made-up child's name and an image I found on google for the name and image that appear on the actual visual.)
I was eager to present the visual to him the next morning in class. I didn't know how he would react when seeing it for the first time. He's usually very quiet and tends not to show any emotion. Right away, I noticed two things. Anytime he worked in a different part of the classroom, he brought the visual with him and put it on the table next to his work. That has continued to this day. Second, at the end of each class period and each day, the visual is always on the top, middle section of his desk. Typically, with this child, to put it kindly, neatness isn't his highest priority. Papers are often lost or seen falling out of his desk and backpack. But the visual was always respected and cared for.
Now, whenever he does a great job focusing on his work and using his time well, he's in his version of "Beast Mode." I love capturing these moments by calling him by his new nickname and recognizing his fine effort. Will the visual and nickname, by themselves, lead to dramatic changes and make his difficulties disappear? Of course not. But, might having something positive to look at each day that shows him at his best and on equal footing with his favorite athlete begin to make a difference for him and help him start to view school and himself more favorably? That is my sincere hope.