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Turning The “Can’t” Mentality into the “Can” Mentality

One of the teacher phrases that really grinds my gears is “These kids can’t…” or “Our kids can’t….” I was having a conversation about this phrase with a friend today, and we found that many teachers love to use this phrase as an excuse to NOT do something with instruction. As an educator, this phrase incenses me. I see it more as an excuse, rather than a fact. The fact of the matter is, every person can’t do something—this is life. There is no person who has mastered everything—if there is, please introduce me to him or her. As a teacher, it is your job to get students who “can’t” do something to be able to do something—if not, you’re doing them a disservice as their teacher. In this blog, I am going to give you a few tips to help turn those “can’ts” into “can’s”.

#1: Are you scaffolding? Scaffolding skills and assignments helps make content accessible to your students. Are you planning and incorporating scaffolds in your planning? If you know that students will have to write a lab report using evidence to explain how a chemical reaction takes place, are you supporting students with identifying strong evidence, providing background information about all of the chemicals involved, provided accessible examples of chemical reactions…. There cannot be an expectation that students will just do something, you have to create the roadmap that will help students arrive at the appropriate destination. I did a video on scaffolding, you can watch it HERE if you’re interested!

#2: Are you differentiating? We all know this, but people learn in different ways. How are you differentiating instruction so that it is accessible to all of your students. Teaching the entire class one way is not effective. Are you simply lecturing students? Are you explaining how to complete tasks one way only? You have to understand what kind of learners you have and make sure you are teaching in a way that is most accessible to your students. You can check out this LEARNING STYLES survey—it will be a great help!

#3: Are you getting to know your students personally? One of the greatest and probably most widely used Ted Talk is Rita Pierson’s Ted Talk: Every Kid Needs a Champion ( In it, she points out that kids don’t like from people they don’t like—and this is true. Kids shut down if they feel as if you don’t want to be there. Children are extremely perceptive. They know whether or not you care. Get to know your students, learn their stories, their likes and dislikes, the backgrounds…they need to know you care about them as people. They sit and observe you everyday, they know where your heart is.

#4: Are you using content that you like or they like? Many teachers are guilty of this—even I have been! Are you teaching what you love or what they love? Your job is not to get students to love your favorite book or concept, and it is not to get them to share your beliefs. If you get to know your students, you can make sure that you are using content that they love because this will also make it more accessible to them.

#5: Are you using data to drive your instruction? I’ll be honest, data-driven instruction is one of my most hated teacher phrases, but that doesn’t make it any less important. Are you grading consistently? Are you providing consistent feedback on assignments? Are you using district test data? Are you using formative assessment data? The fact of the matter is, you have to reflect on your data and use that to lesson plan. If you made a chili recipe and every told you it was too spicy, would it make since to ignore everyone and continue using the same recipe?No! You would alter the recipe so that everyone can actually eat it. The same works with your classroom, you have to use data to inform instruction or students will not be successful.

#6: Do you have systems and routines in place? Let us not forget about behavior either! I have seen and had classrooms where students would swing from light fixtures for one person, but be complete angels with another. Kids will be compliant. As I mentioned earlier, kids need to know that you care about them. In addition, you have to have fair systems and routines in place. Students know when you are not being fair, and they will respond negatively to it. In addition, you have to be consistent with those systems and routines. You can’t be lenient one day and tough the next, this inconsistency will set you up for failure.

You cannot tell me that students can’t accomplish something because all students can. The real question is, what are your doing to make sure that your students can? If you liked this blog, you can always check out the video HERE.

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