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Six Ways to Help Students Reach Their Potential


When you step into your classroom each day, do you believe that all your students can succeed? Does this belief shape how you teach and engage your students in learning?

On this episode of Critical Window (listen below) a podcast by the Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed), we spoke with Dr. Yvette Jackson, adjunct professor at Teacher’s College at Columbia University and senior scholar at the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education, about her concept of the “pedagogy of confidence.” Dr. Jackson, who has a book titled after this concept, is internationally recognized for her work applying neuroscience, gifted education, literacy, and cognitive mediation theory to elicit high intellectual performances from under-achieving and historically underserved students.

A core concept of Dr. Jackson’s work is based on the idea that teachers should teach from a place of confidence in every students’ ability to learn, regardless of background or zip code. “When you have confidence about the potential of students, you help to push them to the outskirts, the limits of their mind,” explains Dr. Jackson on Critical Window. In this strategy, “learning becomes something that pulls [a student’s] potential to the next level.”

What are the core ideas behind the “pedagogy of confidence,” and how can educators use this style of pedagogy to support adolescent learning? Here are six key strategies from Dr. Jackson:

1.Identify and activate student strengths.

Instruction should help students believe “I can do this.” Teaching to students’ strengths helps them become more confident in their abilities and empowers them to perform better, all while establishing a growth mindset.

2. Focus on high intellectual performance.

High intellectual performance should be the target for all students, not only those who have been identified for gifted and talented programs. Teach with the knowledge that all students are highly capable.

3. Build on existing skills and knowledge.

Look at what students need to progress in their learning. What type of background knowledge do they need to have as a baseline and what additional skills do they need to build to succeed at the next level?

4. Situate learning in students’ lives.

Are students seeing a connection between what you’re teaching and what’s happening in the world? Focus on issues and events happening in the world around them and incorporate those trends into the learning experience.

5. Acknowledge the impact of culture.

Culture impacts the learning process and is a fundamental building block for students; however, it also can hold children back, even in school. If the school culture doesn’t represent the culture of the students, then you’re going to get all kinds of dysfunction.

6. Assess growth in every learning experience.

Make every learning experience an opportunity for assessing growth. Receiving feedback on their performance and areas of growth helps students feel confident that they can progress in their learning.

Listen to more from Dr. Jackson in the episode below.

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Critical Window is a podcast from the Alliance for Excellent Education that explores the rapid changes happening in the body and the brain during adolescence and what these changes mean for educators, policymakers, and parents. 

Subscribe to Critical Window on Apple MusicStitcher or wherever you find podcasts.

Featured Image by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action.