10 Days, One Chance

The first ten days of school… what comes to mind? For many of us, it’s schedules, syllabi, rules, and regulations as we acclimate ourselves and our students to the new school year. But from my years of research on increasing enrollment and retention with the younger generations, I am convinced that we need to take a different approach. The most important thing we can do during those first ten days is to show our students what I call the Light at the End of the Tunnel—the exciting rewards they will enjoy once they’ve finished their program.

Today’s young people don’t make long-term commitments and the first ten days of school are our trial period. We have ten days and one chance to convince them that our programs are awesome gateways to a desirable lifestyle where they can have amazing experiences. If we don’t grab this opportunity with both hands, our students may decide this is boring and disengage. Or worse, disappear.

And that’s why the Light at the End of the Tunnel is so critical. It motivates. It inspires. And it reminds our students why they wanted to do this in the first place. Instead of meeting them with requirements and red tape, we should be capturing their imaginations from the very first moment by helping them see, hear, feel, and experience the amazing things that await them when they finish the program. If they’re going to succeed, they need to get a good look at their personal Light at the End of the Tunnel.

Unique, special, and important

I know an English teacher who spends her first two classes asking questions that engage her students by making them feel unique, special, and important. What do you do for fun? What kind of movies do you like? How many of you love to take vacations? Who’s your favorite band? Ever get to see them live? If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? And more. The class responds eagerly to the sense of fun and connection (probably thinking this is the BEST class ever).

The next day, after more discussion about the things they enjoy, she suddenly zeroes in on the point: if you apply yourself to learn and succeed now, you can experience all these great things you love because you will be able to afford the lifestyle you want. It answers the question every student is asking: WIIFM—What’s In It For Me? What’s in it for me if I work hard to succeed in this class?

By uncovering the things they’re passionate about, this teacher makes them feel valued while connecting the dots between their education and the motivation they need to take it seriously. She shines the Light at the End of the Tunnel—and her students consistently respond with enthusiastic commitment.

So consider the first ten days an investment in the success of the coming year. Recast the rules as “tips for success” and yourself as a coach rather than a taskmaster. Help your students see, feel, smell, touch, and experience the Light at the End of the Tunnel so they focus on the reward, remember the reason they’re doing this, and gain the motivation to achieve great things both in and out of the classroom. You can make a bigger difference for your students and organization—so blaze that Light!