A Powerful Three Letter Word: TRY

December 19, 2017

There is a poster hanging in my classroom with the quote, “You never know what YOU can do until you TRY.” Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try. I remind my students of this idea every day.

As a child I was always referred to as a “tomboy.” This was because I could always be found climbing trees, scaling buildings, or doing other things typically associated with my male counterparts. My mom would always get on me for coming home with my knee scraped and cut marks all over. Being a “lady” was not in my DNA. I wanted to show the boys that I could do what they did and accomplish things typically associated with being a boy. But I was just being me. Not a boy, just me. From a young age I knew that if I wanted to accomplish something then I just had to put my mind to it and try.

At the bottom of the poster is a giant picture of someone skydiving. The funny thing is that this poster has always spoken to me because skydiving is something that I have always dreamed of doing. Therefore, this past summer I decided that no matter what happened I was not going to let the summer pass without going skydiving.

I had put it off over the last couple of years for various reasons. My ankle wasn’t healed enough from when I broke it when I attempted to longboard. Skydiving was too expensive, and I could not justify paying so much money to jump out of a plane. Everyone says I am crazy for even wanting to do it, so maybe I am, and I shouldn’t.

This year I decided to ignore these claims and try to accomplish my goal. As courageous as I was as a child, I had lost something over the years, and began to believe that if I was not successful at everything I did then something was wrong. Therefore, if I didn’t try, I couldn’t fail. This is a sad state, but one that most of our students find themselves in at some time.

As students go through school they find it harder and harder to do the things that seemed to come naturally to them at first. Being told so often that they are wrong, and that being wrong is a problem, makes it harder for them to try. I instill in my students the notion that it is okay to be wrong. Mistakes are a requirement. It is worse if you are never wrong because chances are that you did not try. Mistakes are where true learning takes place.

As the plane soared through the air I conjured in my mind all that could go wrong, to give myself a reason not to go through with skydiving. But what I kept coming back to was that I would never know if I could have done it if I did not try. With much trepidation and a heightened sense of excitement, I eventually took the plunge that day and jumped out of the plane. As I soared through the air with the wind pressing against me, my first thought was, I did it! For the next hour after the jump that was my new song. “I did it! I did it! I did it!”

That feeling of accomplishment was greater than the jump itself. That is what we want our students to feel– the joy and excitement of trying something, whether or not they are successful at first. Had I not been successful on the day of my jump, I would not be writing this blog right now! But I was not always successful at everything I did. I did not achieve National Board Certification the first time I tried. I did not successfully win a seat on the Montgomery County (MD) Education Association Board of Directors the first time that I ran. I did not view these failures as setbacks, but rather as opportunities to learn and improve. That is what I tell my students when I share my story with them. If I had never tried, I would never know what I could accomplish. I have taken this three-letter word to heart, and as my son would say now, “I am a boss!” We want all of our children to feel this way, and trying is the way to go.

There are certain steps we can take to ensure that students are as driven in the classroom as they are on the playground. One way is to frontload learning using techniques such as Think-Pair-Share, so that all children feel like they will be successful at learning even if they fail along the way. Cooperative learning groups are also effective in building the confidence of our reluctant learners. It also helps to celebrate all achievements of our students, and not focus on their failures. This can be accomplished by using positive self-talk and other similar methods. Help your students find joy from getting one right even as they aim eventually to get them all right. If they don’t feel comfortable with both failure and success, then they will never try.

Java Robinson, NBCT

Java M. Robinson is a National Board Certified Teacher (Middle Childhood, Generalist) and teaches second grade in Montgomery County, Maryland, where she also serves as a coach, recruitment coordinator and candidate support provider for National Board candidates. She has more than two decades of teaching experience in three states. Java also works with as a Teach Ambassador to recruit others (specifically minorities and men) into the teaching profession, and is an active member of several local education leadership organizations. Teacher.  She enjoys networking with other teachers and advocating for change in public education. Follow Java on Twitter @JavaRobinson.