How Might We Be Shutting Down the Intelligence of Students?

Photo by kkgas/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by kkgas/iStock / Getty Images

5 Things We Can Do to Bring Out the Best in Students

As the educational partner for The Wiseman Group, a good portion of my time is spent guiding and coaching educational leaders to use their intelligence to make everyone around them smarter and more capable.  In this role I have the privilege of working closely with Liz Wiseman, best-selling author ofMultipliers: How The Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter and Rookie Smarts.  Liz is an exceptional leader, dynamic person and outstanding speaker. (If you ever get the chance to hear her speak GO!)   It is always a treat to hear Liz speak about Multipliers and Rookie Smarts, but recently I had the opportunity to hear Liz engage with a parent/teacher audience about applying “multiplier concepts” to bring out the best in our children.   

Liz began her research several years ago with a fairly straightforward question: How do some leaders create intelligence in the people around them, while others diminish it?  Her research uncovered two fundamentally different types of leaders.  In the first group are the Diminishers.  These leaders tend to believe there are few really smart people and that people will not figure things out without them.  The second group of leaders are Multipliers.  These leaders bring out each person’s unique intelligence and creativity.  They see their organization as filled with intelligent, capable people and create the right opportunities for continued growth.  As you can imagine these two types of leaders get very different results.  Multipliers tend to get twice as much from their resources as do Diminishers.  Liz goes on to identify a leadership continuum with Multipliers and Diminishers on opposite ends of this continuum. As you might expect, just a small number of people fall into either polar extreme of being a Multiplier or a Diminisher 100% of the time.  Most of us find ourselves along a spectrum functioning as Accidental Diminishers.

This concept of Accidental Diminishers is especially intriguing to me in education, as most educators I know are extremely well intentioned, following popular leadership and instructional practices which may actually have a subtle diminishing influence on those we lead whether they are teachers or students. With some focused effort, we can shift our accidentally diminishing tendencies and develop skills to lead and teach more like a multiplier.  In fact, Liz shared five things you can do tomorrow in your school or classroom to bring out the best in students. (All of these suggestions work in work in parenting as well!)

5 THINGS YOU CAN DO TO BRING OUT THE BEST IN STUDENTS

Shift From Answers to Questions

What if we stopped operating in telling mode and shifted to questioning mode?  What might our students already know?  Too often we fall into the trap of telling our students things they might already know.  Test this out by going extreme and only asking questions of your students for an identified period of time.  Chances are everyone will learn more and you’ll improve your ability to ask questions in the process.

Play Fewer Chips

Often as adults we just take up too much space.  We have so much to share, that we actually end up shutting down what our students have to share.  What if we thought of our contributions as poker chips to be played?  When planning, try identifying a number of “chips” to be played.  By limiting your contributions, you might actually create more space for students to do their best thinking.

Offer Bigger Challenges

Imagine for a moment that the challenges we give our students are like the stretch in  rubber bands.  Now imagine that you are holding tight to one end of a rubber band and a student is holding tight to the other end of a rubber band - if you pull the rubber band to it’s maximum tension point (without breaking) the person holding the other end has a couple of choices: let go or they can step in and move closer to you.  In teaching we need to experiment with the amount of stretch on the rubber band.  Are we stretching too much so that students give up?  Are we not stretching enough? Are we stretching but then lessening the stretch at the first sign of struggle?  Try thinking of challenges in the amount of stretch offered.  Do you tend to over stretch or under stretch?  As human beings we are built for challenges, in fact our best learning happens when there is maximum tension on the rubber band and we have to step into the learning.

Find Their Genius

What if we learned to see our students differently?  We all know our students are unique and have their own innate talents.  What might happen if we saw our primary role as teachers to identify and nurture the native genius of our students?  Challenge yourself to observe and identify the native genius of every student in your class. Help students see this native genius and nurture it.

Give the Pen Back

We all know that learning is a messy process and there are times when people get stuck.  As educators our goal is to help students but sometimes when we jump in to help we end up taking the ownership of the learning.  What if we helped just enough to get students unstuck but then quickly gave the pen back, transferring the ownership of learning right back to the student?


Experimenting with these five shifts, may help you teach more like a multiplier and unleash genius in your students.  If you try any of the above experiments, I’d love to hear what you and your students experience!