Opinion Blog

Ask a Psychologist

Helping Students Thrive Now

Angela Duckworth and other behavioral-science experts offer advice to teachers based on scientific research. To submit questions, use this form or #helpstudentsthrive. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Profession Opinion

What Your Students Will Remember About You

By Angela Duckworth — January 06, 2021 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print
Which teachers have the deepest impact on students?

Which teachers make the most lasting impact on their students?
The best way to develop a deeper relationship with your students is to think about who your mentors have been and how they’ve supported you. Here’s something I wrote recently for Character Lab as a Tip of the Week:
Think of a mentor you’ve never properly thanked. Write them a letter expressing what they mean to you and, if you have the courage, read it to them aloud.
This was the task I recently assigned as homework in the undergraduate class I teach. Some of my students wrote gratitude letters to their mom or dad. Others thanked a coach or former boss. As in past years, the majority of students chose to thank a former teacher.
Afterward, I polled students, asking them to characterize their mentor using two dimensions: support and demand.
Consistent with research on parenting style, we dubbed mentors “permissive” when they were supportive but not demanding and “authoritarian” if they were demanding but not supportive. Mentors were “authoritative” if they were both supportive and demanding and “neglectful” if they were neither. With few exceptions, the students identified their most influential mentors as authoritative (see graph below).

Authoritative mentoring poll

Here is an excerpt from one student’s reflection, shared with her permission:
For my gratitude letter, I thanked my volleyball coach from high school. He not only was encouraging, but he was very demanding of me. He believed in me so much that he would not stop pushing me to become better.
I originally texted him asking if I could FaceTime him, and he of course loved the idea. When I called him, I told him I wanted to read a letter I had written. I read my letter, and by the end we were both sobbing. I could not stop crying because I have never met someone who believed in me as much as he did/still does today.
When someone pushes you past your boundaries, I believe that’s how you can tell how much they care about you.
Of all the blessings in life we have to be thankful for, it’s hard to beat the good fortune of having a supportive and demanding mentor—someone who cares about us unconditionally but, at the same time, asks us to do things we cannot yet do (like the tough-yet-kind 8th grade English teacher I wrote about a few weeks ago).
Don’t assume that the people who have changed your life know how much you appreciate them. What is obvious to you may be invisible to them.
Do start a tradition of writing gratitude letters to people you haven’t properly thanked. If you can, muster the courage to read your letter aloud. Perhaps your kids will see you wipe a tear from your eye. Perhaps you will have to explain why. I can’t think of a better way to kick off the new year.

Angela Duckworth, the founder and CEO of the education nonprofit Character Lab, is a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. You can follow Character Lab on Twitter @TheCharacterLab.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Ask a Psychologist: Helping Students Thrive Now are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

English-Language Learners Webinar Helping English-Learners Through Improved Parent Outreach: Strategies That Work
Communicating with families is key to helping students thrive – and that’s become even more apparent during a pandemic that’s upended student well-being and forced constant logistical changes in schools. Educators should pay particular attention
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
Addressing Unfinished Learning in Math: Providing Tutoring at Scale
Most states as well as the federal government have landed on tutoring as a key strategy to address unfinished learning from the pandemic. Take math, for example. Studies have found that students lost more ground
Content provided by Yup Math Tutoring
Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession What New Teachers Need
Ideas from the real world on making teachers' first years less overwhelming and more fulfilling.
5 min read
Illustration of a classroom diorama sitting on a student desk.
Illustration by Laura Baker/Education Week (Images: iStock/Getty)
Teaching Profession Opinion This Year Almost Drove Me Out of Teaching. The Right Leader Made Me Stay
After seven years teaching and one class away from becoming an education specialist, I have seen the highs and lows of education leadership.
Samantha Richardson
4 min read
Illustration of woman sitting on a mountain top looking into the distant landscape.
iStock/Getty
Teaching Profession Maryland Teacher Wins $1 Million Global Prize
Keishia Thorpe received the prize for her work teaching immigrant and refugee students and helping them attend college.
2 min read
This photo provided by the Varkey Foundation shows Keishia Thorpe. The Maryland high school English teacher, who has worked to open up college education for her students, has won the $1 million Global Teacher Prize. The Varkey Foundation announced Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, that Thorpe, who teaches at International High School at Langley Park in Prince George’s County in Maryland, was selected from more than 8,000 nominations and applications from 121 countries around the world.
Keishia Thorpe, who has worked to open up college education for her students, has won the $1 million Global Teacher Prize.
Varkey Foundation via AP
Teaching Profession Opinion Teachers Need Therapy. Their Schools Should Pay for It
You can’t have student mental well-being without investing in the adults around them, argues clinical psychologist Megan McCormick.
Megan McCormick
5 min read
Illustration of nurturing.
Laura Baker/Education Week and Ponomariova_Maria/iStock/Getty, DigitalVision Vectors