The Power of Encouragement

The other day I was reminiscing about when my kids were younger and going to school in Maryland.  One or the big events each year were the Maryland School Assessments (MSA). These exams included a test of reading and math achievement that met the testing requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

What’s not widely publicized is that schools whose students don’t score well get put on a School Improvement Process which is a complete assessment of what’s being done and a look at the root cause.  In worst case scenario, senior staff might get canned and certain programs dropped from the school.

The preparation for these tests was the same each year.   Teachers spend a few weeks before the test getting the kids pumped up.  They come home with special instructions to sleep better and suggestions on the right breakfast to eat before the test.  The hope is that kids will perform well and the scores will be great.

I won’t go into my personal opinion of how useless the MSA was considering kids get taken out of regular learning for several weeks to go into test prep which of course won’t really measure learning.  The end-of-test brain dump is an annual event as well.  I’m more interested in the motivation used on the kids.

When my then 8th grade son got a handwritten postcard from his homeroom teacher which was inscribed “Good luck on the test” it made me wonder…if these kids were encouraged from the first time they stepped into the classroom, would the MSA even be necessary or at a minimum, would extra motivation be needed to pass the test?

You see, the bottom line here is that the kids really have no dog in this fight.  Truth be told, there’s nothing in this for them, particularly my 8th grader who was going to a private school the next year.  If the kids really knew this, they’d completely blow the test off.  Hence, the need to get them engaged!

My kids had some great teachers and some that weren’t as great.  Students on the other hand seem to be either hot or cold.  Some great scholars (my kids were in this group – A’s and B’s across the board – yes, I’m bragging!) and those who really don’t care.  I wonder what would happen if teachers made an effort to challenge the hot students and encourage the cold ones year round?

Taking this out of the school setting and into the workplace now, are you doing something each day as a supervisor to encourage your staff?    The bigger question is:  does your team see the big picture regarding your organization?  Do they see something in it for them?  Do they have a dog in the fight?  If not, you might want to re-think how you communicate your strategy to them.

If you’re not in a management role, are you encouraging those around you?  Have you asked your boss to show you the “big picture” so you know what success looks like?  If not, you’re tempting fate when layoffs come – how can you show your value if you don’t know what the value adds to?

Once a year is not enough if you’re looking for sustained performance.  Why not take some time this week to encourage somebody?