Desire, focus and stability: The path to success for students

How can we best keep students in school?

This is a hard question to answer, as it depends on each individual student. But on the path to success, three things are constant: a desire from individual students, a focus on success and the stability of others.

How do we create desire? By engaging needs. Individual students have different needs that must be met before they can be focused on their academic obligations. If students are going to overcome these challenges they will need to have the confidence and desire to learn and focus and overcome the roadblocks they encounter — and that comes from practice.

As a teacher, there have been many times in which I've seen students become disengaged because of what adults might consider "the little things." But regardless of how we view these obstacles, if a student is having a hard time overcoming a challenge, then we are obligated to help if we can — for if we do not, the learning that we can offer becomes defective. That is, of course, to say nothing of the deeper challenges they face.

Many students have lost the ability to believe they are capable of success and have potential as an individual. This, again, is something that we, as teachers, must actively address. We can help students believe in themselves by modeling our belief in ourselves — and in them. And only once they believe they can have success can they actually focus on achieving that success.

Students also need a stable support system. Sometimes that comes from parents, but often it does not — and even when it does, it is sometimes not enough on its own. That's why students can also benefit from being exposed to other stable role models, including business owners, community leaders and successful professionals — because until a student can see success being modeled, they cannot hope to emulate it. Teachers, of course, are also vital in this role. An adult who is there year after year can make a huge difference in the lives of young people.

There is no easy answer to solving the dropout epidemic. But those of us who wish to make a difference should ensure that the conditions exist in every student's life to benefit from desire, focus and stability.

John Carlisle is a teacher in Utah's Nebo School District. What is your solution to the dropout epidemic? Email us at