Positive Projections: The Golden Nugget for Student Excellence

I have been teaching now for six years. When I first started, there were students who I let drown. It was my fault because I wasn’t equipped with the proper life jackets. See, at first I was merely trying to stay afloat myself. So any student who attempted to test the waters was left outside my narrow vessel. Losing sleep over the “lost ones”, I renovated this ship with various tools that would ensure a variety of students’ safety. The last and most important revision that I’ve recently made was the most important. This is the tool of positive projections.


All, okay not all…many teachers use encouragement to foster academic excellence. It starts early with stickers. Elementary children love getting stickers on an assignment or test. Candy and extra gym time also work in fostering student excellence at an early age, despite the psychological “detriments” said methods purportedly raise. Let’s pause for a second to throw those wrong assumptions out the window: who doesn’t feel good about being acknowledged and getting tangibly rewarded for their efforts? Every single person on earth makes every single move they make for something that results in their personal benefit. (That’s not my personal opinion, that’s 100 years of psychological and sociological analysis vetted and confirmed by other smart people). But beyond what all the experts say, the most influential strategy any teacher can use for motivation is creating an atmosphere that validates young, impressionable minds through positive affirmations about their current state and potential future.


The students that comprise my class may not be the smartest cohort of students as a collective. But they damn sure act like it. There isn’t any academic challenge that they are unwilling to attempt. That is because throughout the year I have alluringly “put them on” to the idea that academic excellence is the archetypal way to earning my congratulatory acknowledgement. No, my yacht was not pre-modeled with a savior complex. I am not saying that all these kids want to earn my validation. Rather, I am suggesting that I have provided the allusion that academic excellence is the most honorable trait one could earn in the classroom by providing this notion in a nonchalant way. When you hail upon a student who doesn’t typically answer questions and then proceed to call him a genius after his answer, he becomes unfixed from his static state. When you do this over a period of time, he starts to feel like he is actually a genius. He starts to put his hand up to answer more questions and work more diligently on his tasks. Then, when you start to call him by the nickname “Professor” or “Doctor Last Name” he starts to feel validated in his potential to be that.


The key point to positive projections inside a classroom is that there is no premium or scarcity to the positive affirmations and labels you can provide as a teacher. Everyone can become the professor. Everyone in the class can be excellent. There are many things we face in our modern times that are mere illusions, be it race, gender or class. But perception is reality. When I tell my class they are the, “smartest bunch of 7th graders I’ve ever taught” they believe it. And they should, because positive projections always have the potential to become realities.


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Matthew R. Morris

Educator, Speaker, Writer

Matthew R. Morris is a writer, speaker, and elementary educator in Toronto. He has an M.A. in Social Justice Education from OISE at the University of Toronto and is the author of the forthcoming book, Black Boys Like Me. 

Matthew R. Morris

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