The Success Cycle

A core teaching strategy at Birchwood designed to mirror a child’s natural aspirations and drive to grow and become a competent young person. As such, the success cycle nurtures self-confidence and self-worth.

Its Objectives

First, its practice develops a child’s competency in specific subjects. To develop competency is simply to “get good” at things, like math or reading or writing. But just as importantly, through the success cycle, children recognize and acknowledge their continual improvement. Through measurable achievement, students prove to themselves, to their teachers, and to their parents that they are capable of. Because their competency is growing in these subjects, they spontaneously enjoy them and develop an affinity for learning. It is no surprise that everyone likes what they are good at, and children’s measurable success in academic subjects creates an interest in further learning.
Second, the success cycle builds confidence. In turn, confidence nurtures self-worth and self-efficacy. Self-worth is a product of real, quantifiable success. When children, through their validated achievements, prove to themselves that they can do things, prove to themselves that they are good at “stuff,” then self-worth is a natural result. Children, like any human being, derive self-worth from their real-world, measurable achievements. They can point to their accomplishment with pride and say, “I did it.”

As a companion to self-worth, self-efficacy describes children’s perception of themselves in relation to opportunities for new learning experiences. Self-efficacy is a product of a child’s learning history. For example, if a young girl has had success in mathematics, then she believes she is good at math. When the next opportunity to learn math arises, she is eager to engage and learn. Her sense of self-efficacy says, “I can do this.” Such an attitude is essential for all forms of advanced learning.

Of course, the opposite is also true. If she has not had previous successes in mathematics, she will doubt herself and her abilities when faced with new opportunities to learn math. She will withdraw and claim “I can’t do that,” even without trying.

Third, the success cycle creates internal motivation for life-long learning. When children experience growth  in reading, mathematics, writing, or in any academic subject  an internal, motivational light goes on. Growth feels good. Competency feels good. Spontaneously, a positive attitude blossoms, not only about academics but about life itself. The successful young boy or girl aspires toward further success and achievement.

At Birchwood, we believe that every individual experience of success corresponds to a child’s human nature that seeks to become the best person he or she can be.

The Success Cycle in Practice

The practical steps in the Success Cycle are simple. They are like guidelines for nurturing the growth of a tender plant.

The process begins by assessing a child’s current level of ability in the content matter. The teacher begins with the question, “How much does he know? What is his foundational knowledge and what is his level of interest?” This is always the starting point for learning.
This starting point should also be built upon the child’s level of confidence, and confidence often represents a child’s history of success. When children start with an “I-can-do-this” attitude at the onset of learning, the likelihood of success is high. In fact, we have found in our experience that if we give children a chance to “show off” what they can do, they are eager to attempt more advanced work.
Following assessment, we identify what should be the next level of achievement. We consider two factors. First, the next level should “stretch.” Real achievement, that is, achievement which gives children a sense of pride, will always require some degree of dedication and hard work. Nothing of value comes easily. Granted, “work” requirements for younger children are minimal. The demands of more challenging work will grow over time. But at every stage, children should understand that hard work is necessary for achievement.
At the same time, the achievement goal should be evidently achievable. This is important especially for young children, because if the next step is too difficult, they become frustrated, and they will quit. The degree of difficulty should be such that the student is willing to engage. The goal should cause them to say, “I can do this.” Of course, this perception of success will vary by student and needs to be carefully analyzed.
Third, as children commence work toward their academic goal, we encourage and guide them with motivational language: “This is a big step, but I think you can do it. Let’s try.” If the child fails, we adjust the goal to make it achievable, and we sprinkle the next round of effort with positive language and support. “Let’s try this together. Let me guide you a little. You can do it. Of course, it is hard work, but you are a good student, and we can do it together. Let’s persevere.” At this stage, make sure the child is successful. Adjust the goal in whatever way is necessary so the child achieves success.

Granted, this third step is a bit vague. That’s because each child is different. Their tolerance for hard work, self-control, or failure varies. Good teachers learn to continually adjust goals while girding their students for hard work and persistence. Included in this third step, is verbal praise.

Success Breeds Success

Motivation research recognizes the power of positive, verbal feedback that simply reinforces what the child has personally experienced and can validate. When you say, “Great job. Look what you did,” your words of praise are an external endorsement of what the child knows to be true: “I did it.” Research shows that this combination of meaningful, external verbal praise coupled to the child’s self-acknowledged success nurtures the pathway toward internal motivational habits. Once children experience success, their faces beam with the satisfaction of “I did it,” and we continue the cycle. Success breeds success, and children are ready for another challenge.
When the success cycle is repeated throughout primary, elementary and middle school, children possess a positive and productive attitude toward growth opportunities in their teen years. They like growing. They are proud of themselves. They are intrinsically motivated to grow and become.