Black students will perform superiorly if they are offered more encouragement

Shelton Wilder, the Superintendent of Schools at Hazlehurst City School District (2003-2004) in Mississippi, encouraged his employees to give themselves a pat on the back every once in a while because without periodic encouragement, most people don’t feel appreciated.

Periodic encouragement can bring out the best in all students while a lack of encouragement can stifle a student’s academic and social development.

The need for encouragement is innate in all of us, child or adult, man or woman, Black or White.

Everyone needs to feel as if someone cares about their success enough to have their efforts acknowledged along the way.

However, encouragement is most needed when we are frustrated and struggling with a situation that seems overwhelming.

Parents and educators must make it a priority to provide such encouragement to their children whenever they can, particularly when children are struggling academically to provide them with the greatest chance of success in school and in life.

Research continually shows that teacher expectations of students are crucial to their performance.

Obviously, the task of guiding African American children, all children, toward academic success is a complex one that requires the dedication, patience, expertise, time, hard work, and, most importantly, caring of many people.

This journey toward the fulfillment of promise and potential in the children we love so well is a journey that begins in the home and branches out to schools, churches, and leaders in our communities.

If you think black students can’t learn, then they probably won’t.

But if you tell them they can do it and keep challenging them by offering different kinds of learning opportunities, then they will surprise you and be very successful.

Encouragement goes a long way with impressionable black youth.

On a day-to-day basis they are bombarded with images of the stereotypical black teenager.

They see themselves portrayed as unintelligent drug dealing buffoons with few redeemable qualities.

When teachers, administrators, and parents encourage them to transcend their conditioning and let their actions speak louder than their words, many of these students will do almost anything to live up to our high expectations.

Matthew Lynch writes a weekly column titled Education Matters. He can be reached at