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A few intentional practices can help students build confidence and reach their unique potential

Challenging students to see and achieve their unique potential

A few intentional practices can help students build confidence and reach their ultimate potential

K-12 teachers, counselors, and other front-line educators all need an effective framework with a set of tools to assess, intervene, and empower our students to see and achieve their own unique potentials, whether in the classroom, guidance counseling sessions, student orientation, or community service opportunities.

The Success Predictor is an effective framework to help educators guide students to make a transformation from the person they think they are “supposed to be”, to the person they know they are meant to be. This is a powerful social-emotional learning (SEL) experience for middle- and high-school-aged students. The Success Predictor is typically used to: determine internal motivations to succeed, understand reference points of capabilities, diagnose internal states of well-being, formulate career aspirations, determine professional acumen, understand academic program interests, guide college selection and fit, guide life and career directions, understand personal paradigms of reality, and guide interventions, among others.

Related content: 10 signs you’re doing SEL right

Family and society constraints

Why don’t students more often take self-responsibility and self-initiative to tap into their inner drive to create a better world and a better self? Most often it is because they are trapped in their own minds, with unexamined beliefs and assumptions about who they are “supposed to be.” This false self is learned through family systems that permit only certain values, customs, and behaviors that are deemed acceptable, while emotions deemed somehow unacceptable are repressed and suppressed by the family culture.

This false self is also learned through our modern societal culture with its own set of limited acceptable values, customs, behaviors and emotions. And, as you can readily determine, these forces are extremely powerful, omnipresent, ubiquitous, and destructive. These forces can be destructive to the full expression of a student’s own sense of self and of their own inner sense of a destiny in life, and even to basic human instincts and emotions that serve as a source of inner motivation to grow and change and make a unique contribution to the greater good.

How to change and grow

Helping students to define and then change themselves to become the person they are meant to be is possible, and there are methods that have been used for over thirty years that transform students’ lives. The first step in the change process is to first ask questions that reveal students’ deep-seated dreams and highest visions for themselves, their relationships, and their community or society more broadly. Questions such as “what are your highest hopes and dreams for your life?” can be asked in a number of school-based settings: orientation sessions, guidance counseling courses, community engagement activities, career days and workshops, and teacher lesson plans.

We have been impressed with the degree to which students who engage in these questions make positive changes—in the direction of their own vision of success.

Another method that classroom teachers and front-line professionals can use is to present a quote or set of quotes that can act as a catalyst for deeper inquiry. Here are two that we use often in our workshops and seminars with middle- and high-school students:

You see things; and you say “Why?”
But I dream things that never were; and I say “Why not?”
– George Bernard Shaw

“The core self contains an essential humanity whose nature is peace and whose expression is thought and whose action is unconditional love.
When we identify with that inner core, respecting and honoring it in others as well as ourselves, we experience healing in every area of our lives.”
– Dr. Joan Borysenko

As respected leaders in students’ lives, educators should communicate that ideas such as “core self”, “essential humanity”, “unconditional love”, “healing in every area of our lives”, and thinking about “things that never were” are important and can act as pathways to a better future starting with a better self—one whose holistic development is honored.

The role of emotions

Emotions are important because they motivate us to grow and develop and make a difference in the world—the real world. Without emotions and motivated reasoning, change is not possible. When a client or student knows what she wants, and she is passionate about it for whatever reason, structural tension is created. Structural tension is a clinical term to describe the energy created when an individual concurrently envisions a desired future state, while being completely aware of the limitations of present or current reality. The difference between the desired future state and current reality creates a tension that seeks resolution toward one or the other. The idea of structural tension applies the first axiom of structural dynamics (Odum, 1988) to individual change.

In any counseling or teaching relationship, it is critical to establish this structural tension in order to empower positive change. When this tension is created, emotional thought drives the change process. As educators and counselors, it is our responsibility to guide positive changes and provide tools or methods so that our students and clients can learn how to do this for themselves. Passion is a powerful emotion that can be understood and should be encouraged to the benefit of all.

A note to our readers: if you have your own examples of where these methods have worked for you we would be interested in hearing from you. Please email us:

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