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Teaching Strategies to Unlock Struggling Students’ Potential

Janelle Cox

We all have had to struggle at one point in our lives or another. As adults, we know that sometimes life can get hard and we have to push ourselves in order to get through whatever obstacles that may come our way. However, most children have yet to learn this life concept. When they come to a hurdle in their academic career, they are unsure of how to handle it, and most of them just give up. Students who struggle in school must learn to persevere and move through their problems in order to get to the other side of them. As teachers, we have the ability to help our struggling students unlock their full potential. We can use teaching strategies to encourage a growth mindset, as well as show them how to stay focused and keep on track. You can unlock struggling students’ potential using the following teaching strategies.

Teaching Strategies: Encourage a Growth Mindset

Students who are struggling in academics often don’t have high self-esteem. The more they struggle in school, the more their brain is telling them that they are no good. One way to unlock a student’s potential is to encourage a growth mindset. You can do this by sharing stories about people who overcame obstacles and persevered. You can talk about how famous people like Albert Einstein, Whoopi Goldberg, and John Lennon all had learning disabilities but overcame them with hard work and dedication. You can discuss how Bill Gates, J.K. Rowling, and Thomas Edison all had to learn how to fail before they could succeed. By discussing the many success stories of famous people overcoming through great perseverance, you can make a real impact on a struggling student’s life, and give them the mindset that they too can reach their full potential with a little hard work.

Teach Students to Learn How to Fail

There’s a saying that goes, “If you never fail, you’ll never succeed.” This saying perfectly sums up what we are trying to instill in our youth. In today’s society, there seems to be an illusion that everybody’s life is perfect, or at least it should be. When you scroll through your social media newsfeed, you’ll find parents posting their child’s perfect test scores or you’ll see a photograph of perfectly manicured lawn with a beautiful family placed just so in front of a gorgeous house. These photographs depict an illusion that we live in a society where everything has to look and be perfect. For a child struggling, this concept can be a lot to bear. What we need to teach students is that it’s OK to be imperfect and it’s also OK to fail. However, once you do fail, you must learn to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again. When you reach your full potential just to fail, then to reach it again, you’re developing a growth mindset. This in turn will help you learn that failure is OK because you know you’ll get back to success once again. Once students understand this concept because they’ve been through it, they will have learned how to unlock their full potential.

Form a Positive Relationship with Students

Many students who are struggling in school can use some encouragement. If students are not getting the encouragement they need from home, then they need to get it from a teacher or a peer. Just a few inspiring words can have a real impact on how a student can do in school. Try using the “Two by Ten Strategy” to help form a positive relationship with your students. This is when you take two minutes out of your day for ten consecutive days to develop a bond with your students. Use these two minutes to learn about your struggling students’ lives. The more you know them personally, the better you’ll be able to help them academically.

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Show Students How We Learn

Oftentimes children who struggle in school don’t realize that their brain has the ability to rewire itself to learn better. Research shows that through practice and repetition, your brain will become stronger. Teach students that everyone learns in a different way and it’s important to find the way that their brain works best. Recognizing how they learn can be a huge advantage to their academic success. Students should also think of their brain like any other muscle in their body. The more they exercise it, the stronger and better it becomes. Having the knowledge of how they learn can in turn help students to reach their full potential.

Struggling in school can be frustrating for both you as the teacher, as well as the student. As long as you encourage growth mindset, teach the student that it’s OK to fail, show them how we learn, and take the time to really get to them, then they’ll be able to eventually learn to reach their full potential.

What are the teaching strategies you use to help struggling students reach their full potential? Please share your best tips and ideas in the comment section below. We’d love to hear what works for your classroom.


Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds Masters of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com, TeachHUB Magazine, and Hey Teach. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @empoweringed, on Facebook at Empowering K12 Educators, or contact her at Janellecox78@yahoo.com.