As we resume school after winter break, we are three months away before state testing, As this shift, begins, I am reminded of a common concern I heard from many of my principals during their mid-year review. That concern was students’ lack of motivation, seriousness about their education, and their complacency when taking assessments.

Therefore, it’s imperative that we focus a great deal of our time on the “Affective Domain.” Unfortunately, in an era of accountability, we’ve been programmed to focus on the Cognitive Domain only.


As a former principal, I could relate as I once faced the same challenge with students not being motivated at school. However, this changed after an encounter with a male student in my mentoring program while a middle school principal. During this encounter, it became apparent that four questions are essential to begin the process of inspiring and igniting a students’ flame for learning. These four questions are: 1) How will learning this benefit me? 2) When will I need to use this skill? 3) How are this content and I culturally connected? 4) Why should I try my best on this test?

The encounter was with a student named Marlon. Marlon was skilled with his hands. He wanted to be a mechanic. Anything wrong with a car, Marlon can fix it. He was changing the oil, replacing brake pads, or changing the starter or alternator for teachers. However, he was disconnected from school until one day; we discussed math.


After an encounter with his math teachers, I asked him why didn’t he like math? He responded I don’t see how this class would benefit me! At this point, the bell rang, and it was time for Marlon to go to his next class. However, before leaving, I told Marlon to bring his toolbox to school the next day. He was filled with excitement as he said, “No problem Doc!”


Ratchet Set


The next morning, he came to my office with his toolbox, He was excited to show me his tools and he bought some nuts and bolts as well. I began asking him about each tool and its purpose. He emphatically explained each tool and its purpose. Finally, he wanted to show me his new ratchet set. This was a new gift from his mom, and he was excited to show it off. Once he finished showing off the set, I asked him what the numbers on side of each tool were?” He responded it’s the size of the bolt. I asked him to look closer. He still didn’t get. It was at that point, I mentioned to him that 9/16, 5/8, 3/8, 11/16, are fractions. Additionally, I reminded him that everything he does with cars is measurements. Also, I reminded him that he should take a major interest in math as he is already a mathematician as he can simply look at a bolt and tell what size it is. I also, told him he was a scientist as well specifically, a chemist, as he could explain what happens when a car is running hot, that he knows exactly what kind of chemicals to use, or if too much pressure has built up and a hose has possible burst.


I also went on to explain to him that his ancestors were mathematicians as we reviewed the history of the builders of the pyramids in Egypt. Finally, I asked him did he know that a black man invented the car? He responded “No.” I told him his name was Charles Richardson Patterson. I asked him to research and bring me a report the next day.


CR Patterson


That day Marlon was amazed at his skill set and knowledge in the areas of math and science. I reminded him that he was an expert in angles, fractions, measurement, chemicals, pressure, and a plethora of other areas in math and science. I also, reminded him that the state assessment was measuring his ability in each of these content areas as well as English language arts and social studies.  Oh, the next day, he bought me a three-page typed report with no errors.


After that day, Marlon began to excel in all content areas and there were no longer discipline issues. You see I was able to answer those four critical questions:  1) How will learning this benefit me? 2) When will I need to use this skill? 3) How are this content and I culturally connected? And 4) Why should I do my best on this test?

In May of that year when the results came, Marlon scores increased and he was proficient in all content areas and his mathematics and science scores skyrocketed with a 30% increase in mathematics and a 22% improvement in science. Marlon goal was to open his own mechanic shop. I’m sure if he remains focus, he will achieve this goal. My motto has always been, “you must connect before you correct!” You have to connect with the child before you correct the child. In this example, I was able to make the learning relevant for Marlon. Therefore, the school became a place to learn as opposed to a place to go to school. Read that last sentence again.