How to Encourage Children's Performance in School

“Rosenthal identified a number of behaviors expressed by the teachers that could have influenced the children’s performance: The teachers spent more time with the ‘talented’ students than with the other students, provided them with more detailed feedback, and were more likely to encourage them to respond in class. Overall, the teachers treated the ‘special’ kids differently, and as a result, those kids indeed became special.”
- Tali Sharot, “Is Optimism a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?” The Optimism Bias (pg. 48).
As many of you know by now, I have a special place in my heart for evolutionary psychology, the study of human behavior through the lens of evolution. The latest book that I've fallen for is Tali Sharot’s The Optimism Bias, which examines the evolutionary origins and effects of optimism. In Rosenthal and Jacobson’s Pygmalion study, described in the quote above, Sharot explores how “preconceptions that are, in general, not based on real evidence” (pg. 49) become self-fulfilling prophecies. In other words, how prejudices encourage their subjects to become what is expected of them. As soon as I read about this study, I sat up in bed, set down my book, and began to jot down notes about the preconceptions of ADHD and their affects on the futures of those of us with ADHD.

What's currently on my shelf: The Optimism Bias.
We ADHD’rs harbor intense feelings about being disregarded and underestimated. Too often in environments where linear minds are valued, we end up reprimanded, restricted, or sent to detention due to "bad" behavior. If you trust Rosenthal and Jacobson's study, when you fall into a cycle of being treated like the “troublemaker," you will come to believe that is who you are, that your role in your classroom, office, or home is fixed and that you will always be the black sheep in your herd.

Before I learned to manage and benefit from my ADHD, I often felt like teachers were reprimanding my personality, instead of my behaviors. Having since spoken to classrooms of students (some of whom had ADHD themselves!), I can empathize with the patience that teachers learn in order to command their classrooms, connect with students, and encourage an environment in which kids can learn. I understand why the hyperactive child is a hindrance to such goals. At the same time, it’s important for teachers to remember that they are reprimanding a student's behaviors and not the student overall. If both the teacher and student work together, such so-called such kids can and will develop the skills to better fit in and excel both in and outside of school. If, instead, the teacher continues to expect problems from such a child, that student may develop an equally negative understanding of his/herself.

The flip-side of this is positive reinforcement, which can actually elevate a child's self-confidence and ability to excel. One should never mistake one's current circumstances as permanent. In fact, everyone must endure tough times in order to grow and mature. To thrive in this modern world we all must adapt to what’s suitable and appropriate in different contexts.
As mentors to the next generation our message should be that certain behaviors are inappropriate, not the pupils themselves.
It’s also up to us as ADHD’rs to distinguish between the two and incorporate this message into our understanding of ourselves and our ADHD. Else we run the risk of emboldening our failures, rather than our future successes.

When was the last time that you felt criticized for being who you are? Do you think others' preconceptions about ADHD contributed to those feelings?