Emphasize the importance of progress, not perfection, in your classroom — especially when teaching perfectionists.
Whether cultivated through high parent expectations, a self-esteem problem, or intrinsic motivation, some students struggle with perfectionism, which can create challenges for teachers. These students often cannot accept what they perceive as failure. Though the crushing blow of receiving a D on an exam might register as failure for many students, when teaching perfectionists, educators might be tasked with calming pupils who become upset after having one assignment or project graded as a B.
Other perfectionists don’t exhibit overachiever qualities, but prefer to consistently work at an average academic level, due to a fear of trying something new and failing, or discovering that they’re not as smart as they thought they were. Reaching these pupils can be difficult, but with the correct approach, you can help create a healthy student self-image and begin properly teaching perfectionists.
1. Failure is Fine
Sure, a student who consistently receives failing grades is exhibiting signs of a problem, but teaching perfectionists who don’t see the value in occasional failure can also be detrimental to the learning process. As a teacher, emphasize the importance of making mistakes and learning from failure. By examining their and others’ mistakes and learning where errors lie, students see the complete process of correctly working out a problem — and avoiding the same failure in the future.
2. Cultivate a Growth Mindset
When teaching perfectionists who exhibit a fixed mindset, teachers face the challenge of overcoming a student’s opinion of themselves as having a limited, or fixed, ability to excel in certain subjects, which can cause anxiety. By cultivating a growth mindset within the classroom, teaching perfectionists will become easier, as these students will begin to embrace failure as a stepping stone toward mastery through hard work. Start by joining Amazon’s With Math I Can initiative to help students develop a growth mindset.
3. Teach Helpful Habits
Average students who are afraid of their own potential are typically those pupils who can excel, yet don’t dedicate additional effort due to their fear of failing after they succeed. Encourage these students to take ownership of their success, but emphasize that you will help them reach their full potential. At their purest form, great study methods can cross subjects, for example, excellent vocabulary memorization tools can also be applied to mastering math, or chemistry, concepts. When these students succeed, emphasize their excellence. When they fail, do not exhibit disappointment, but point out their dedication to the process and work with them to master the concepts on which they are weak.
4. Use Peer Assessment
Create a trusting environment for all students to succeed by emphasizing mutual respect and implementing peer assessment. Through creating an environment in which students help each other through offering positive feedback and critique, teachers can increase trust within the classroom. This approach is useful when teaching perfectionists, as the fear of failure will decrease when they begin to trust their fellow students and feel safe inside a classroom free of judgement.
5. Make it Personal
Nothing helps teachers seem relatable more than sharing with students a personal childhood account of how they faced similar issues. Think back to your own school days and share a story of the fear you felt when trying to accomplish a goal. While telling the story, be certain to add the questions that will allow students to relate, such as “How will I top this achievement?,” “What if another student performs better?,” and “Will my parents and teacher be disappointed in me if I fail?”
Many habits are difficult to break, therefore be patient when teaching perfectionists. Perfectionists often feel the need to have control of every situation. Convincing these students to accept help isn’t easy, but building a support system for them will facilitate the process of teaching perfectionists and help them achieve their potential.