Faced with a mountain, FE students may fear the climb

2nd December 2016 at 00:00
But learners can reach the summit if they’re equipped with the personal skills to handle a daunting ascent

Navigating life’s obstacles can often seem like climbing a huge mountain: the higher we go, the more difficult the ascent becomes. The way ahead may be fraught with uncertainty; lack of experience and self-doubt can discourage us from going right to the top.

One of the things that will help us to reach the summit is a strong belief that we truly can go all the way. After all, who would attempt a potentially risky climb unless they at least had some faith that they could make it? Once a difficult journey has been completed, the feeling of accomplishment can be exhilarating and provide a strong incentive to undertake potentially more difficult climbs in the future.

Some learners may be nervous, inexperienced or lack the skills to make the initial steps

Similarly, the challenges facing students in FE could be likened to climbing a mountain. Some learners may be nervous, inexperienced or lack the skills to make the initial steps. Negative past experiences may hinder them from believing that they will complete their course intact. Peer pressure may also make them feel that they will not be able to keep up with others.

How might we help? We can encourage them, teach them coping skills and guide them through difficult times. We can let them know that we wholeheartedly believe that they can reach their goals and go on to overcome even bigger challenges. We can help them to create a picture of the best version of themselves and support them to become that person.

Aiming high

In order for us to develop high expectations of our students, however, it would help us to reflect on how far we stretch ourselves. Are we open to new challenges? Do we regularly strive to excel at what we do? Do we seek feedback from individuals we admire?

Going the extra mile can open up new experiences and learning that we might not otherwise have encountered. If we successfully exert ourselves, then if we stretch our ability in the future, the challenge can seem more realistic and manageable.

The personal sense of satisfaction that we gain from achieving more than we thought we were capable of can spur us on to look for ways to excel in what we do. It’s important to remember, though, that we are only human and success does not come overnight.

Being open and honest about what we would like to achieve can be a strong motivator, especially if we regularly share our intentions with others. When we move nearer to attaining a higher level of challenge, we may find that colleagues actively encourage us along our way as we strive to meet our goals.

Success can often be highly contagious, and we may even find that we become known for being positive influencers and setting higher expectations in our organisation.

After having developed a mindset to push ourselves, we can also help our students to aim high and reach their full potential by following these steps:

* Provide ample opportunity for success.

* Offer learners appropriate feedback about success that shows them how to take it to the next level.

* Teach them how to reflect on what success feels like.

* Help them to appreciate that mistakes can be opportunities for greater learning.

* Guide them through identifying the steps that will reveal how they could improve further.

* Once students get a taste for success, incrementally increase the level of challenge in their learning.

* Let them know that it’s OK to fail, and that you’re there to catch them and help them up again if they fall.

* Relentlessly reinforce your faith in them, but let them know that they also have an equal responsibility to push themselves.

* Give students the scope to discuss their fears and share their successes.

* As they make headway, help them to develop a toolkit for success that they could use for further study or employment.

* Encourage learners to seek feedback.

* Highlight the benefits of having a mentor or critical friend.

* Teach them how to evaluate their work and research ways in which to improve.

* Assist them to identify potential hazards in the next step of their journey and challenge them to develop their own solutions.

As students learn how to set the bar higher for themselves, they will become more confident of what they believe they can achieve, not merely because of wishful thinking but as a result of having worked through tried-and-tested strategies.

Failing to have high expectations of our students could be likened to abandoning them on a rocky ledge and then climbing further up the mountain without them. If we embarked on a real mountain-climbing expedition with our students, we would never physically leave them behind, so why should our expectations of how high they can achieve in their studies be any different?

Paul Warren specialises in support solutions for young people with learning difficulties @paulw_learn

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