Overcoming Fear and Neglect: For Ourselves and Our Students


Authentically affirming others in their own emotional and physical language builds bridges which can lead to long term connections. For example, when we pay attention to how any learner best receives and absorbs feedback emotionally and physically, they will intuitively feel like you really care for them and understand them. Ask yourself, does any given student:

  • prefer a big hug, a high five, or a light tap on the shoulder?

  • prefer to be affirmed with words or an act of service?

  • prefer to be affirmed with some simple time spent with them?

  • Prefer subtle emotional cues or more dramatic cues?

We can begin to address fear and neglect in this stage with comments just after an affirmation. For example:

  • I like that you ask me questions

  • I like how you listen in class

  • I like how you pay attention to things around you

Some may say that these kinds of affirmations should only be used when the student only shows signs of doing those things well. I agree with that sometimes. Other times, we need to seed the ground for our students. My Nana told me “Everything you touch turns to gold” so many times, it rooted itself in my psyche and impacted my internal confidence. Obviously, I wasn’t King Midas. Even if a student is struggling to listen in class, when they do listen, even a little bit, take that moment and begin the momentum for them.


Once affirmation is established as authentic and ongoing, trust between any two individuals and/or groups is much more likely. Whereas affirmation is an action, something we can do, trust is a state of being which can exist between individuals and groups.

We can continue to address fear and neglect in subtle ways once trust is established. For example:

  • I love when you ask questions. I wonder what kinds of interesting questions you’ll come up with next?

  • Your listening skills are improving. Why do you think you’re getting better at this? I’d love to know so I can help other students improve in this area.

  • I love how curious you are. Why do you think curiosity is important?

Notice that with this approach, you’ll be addressing fear and neglect in a safe and contextual manner. You will be showing the opposite of neglect, which could be called many names. I call it love.


Once trust exists, we tend to risk more, hopefully in positive ways. Risk is an action portion of this sequence. Here are some examples of how we can engage risk in empowering ways:

  • Ask a student to take the lead as the teacher for a given moment.

  • Ask students what they thought of your lesson plan today.

  • Ask your students how they could make their classroom more interesting for learning.

  • Ask your students how they would grade their own work.

Again, you will be addressing fear and neglect by putting your students in a positive cycle of thought and action. A sense of self-worth and confidence will replace fear and neglect. It is always easier to replace a habit, as opposed to attempting to simply get rid of a habit.


We choose the quality of our growth. For profound growth to have a chance, we typically are risking our ideas and energy in some way, in addition to risking in the usage of our time, which is precious to all of us.

This stage offers us the opportunity to dive in deep as we help others face their fears and thoughts of neglect. For example:

  • What did you used to be afraid of? Why?

  • How have you grown as a human being this year?

  • What excites you about your future?

  • What would your dream scenario be? Describe it in as much detail as you can.

I’d like to thank two people in closing.

Thanks to Dr. Carroll Rinehart for showing me his cycle of growth (Affirmation, Trust, Risk, and Growth).

Thanks to Sam Sierra-Feldman for teaching me about the nature of neglect and its opposite, love.