Of course, the students who need this type of assistance the most are those who struggle academically and have difficulty demonstrating the work habits required for school success. It is important to talk with these students frequently.

This week I want to share an example of a conversation I recently had with a student. The conversation occurred the day after I was subbed out for a special school activity. I was present at school that day, but I was only in the classroom with my kids for the first hour of the morning. I then popped into the room a few times throughout the day as my schedule allowed.

In the plan I left for the substitute, I gave the kids approximately an hour in the afternoon to work on a writing project that was due the following morning. At the end of the day, I found out from our substitute that one student accomplished very little during that time and gave her an excuse as to why. He then found me after school to ask if he could take the project home to have it typed. In my mind, he was seeking to have someone do his work for him and enable him to meet the deadline without having to put forth effort on his own.

I spoke with that student right then and there, and we spoke again the next day. This child is talented and kind, yet he is working below grade level in all subject areas. Even though the focus of the activity was writing, our conversation was not about writing. It was about honesty, and it was about work ethic. I explained that he had a choice to make about how he went about completing this project. He could have used the ample class time provided to dig into his work, produce as much as he could, and finish his project independently. Or, he could waste his time, make excuses, and look for a short cut. Unfortunately, he chose the latter.

I explained to him that if he is ever going to reach his considerable potential, he needs to make better choices. He needs to embrace challenges, not avoid them. He needs to look to do the most, not the least. He has made choices like this one before, and if he is ever going to break this habit, it is going to be because the adults in his life hold him accountable, encourage him to expect more from himself, and not let him settle for less than his best. He needs to know that the adults in his life believe in him, are encouraging him, and know he can do better. Our unconditional support and high standards give him the best chance of developing his own higher personal standards. He may not alter his expectations tomorrow or next week, but if he hears this message enough times, ultimately it will sink in.

I know that it takes time for major attitudinal changes to occur, but this is arguably the greatest service we, as teachers, can provide to our students, and I will follow up with him for as long as it takes - even into the next school year when he is in somebody else’s class. These issues tend not to get better on their own. Strong action needs to be taken. This action needs to combine positivity and encouragement with a firm resolve to maintain a high expectation level. For many students, we will be the only people in their lives who provide this consistent support.