Helping Students Find Success

By Paul Danuser, MA
Assistant Professor, College of Education

teachers in a meeting

One of the things we try to share with our pre-service teacher candidates is how important it is to make positive connections with our students.

We know from our own experience that most of the pre-service teachers we have in our classrooms at GCU were highly motivated, highly successful students in high school who likely had great connections with their teachers and were motivated to become great teachers because of the connections they had previously. Every once in a while, we have a teacher candidate tell us he wants to be a teacher because of the awful experiences he had in the classroom or on the playing field. However, the majority of our students had excellent experiences and want to share that enthusiasm for learning with the next generation.

The challenge then comes with those students who seem to be unmotivated to work hard or have had little experience with success. How do you get them to see how important it is to rise above and ensure success?

Making connections with students is often more challenging if the teacher finds things easy. For example, a highly decorated athlete may not be a good coach because he finds not everyone works as hard as he did to achieve success.

Despite the challenge, it is incumbent upon all teachers to do what they can to motive their students to do more than they ever thought they could and to see the value in hard work leading to positive results.

Medina (2008) identified twelve principles for finding success at school. He lists the following as ways students can find success, and it makes sense that they would be principles teachers can use to help make that connection in the classroom. Those principles are:

  1. Exercise
  2. Survival
  3. Wiring
  4. Attention
  5. Short-term memory
  6. Long-term memory
  7. Sleep
  8. Stress
  9. Sensory integration
  10. Vision
  11. Gender
  12. Exploration

Each of the principles can make a difference in students’ approach to classroom success, and that would also serve to make the teaching process more rewarding for the teachers as well.

One of the expressions I use with my students is to “make things meaningful.” That can range from a daily assignment to the decisions they make in how to connect with the students.

In 33 years of teaching, I have seen that students will do what we ask of them when they find the value—when there is a connection to the teacher and to the subject matter.

Medina’s suggestions remind teachers that students have so much going on in their lives, and it is so important we get to know the students so we can make the necessary connections with their lives and with their studies. When we do that, the students and teachers benefit, and that is the goal we are shooting for when we enter this profession.

Want to hear from other faculty in the College of Education? Check Out “4 Steps to Help Students Retain Knowledge.”


Medina, J. (2008). Brain rules: 12 principles for surviving and thriving at work, home and school. Seattle, WA: Pear Press. ISBN: 13: 978-0-9797777-0-7.

More about Paul: 

Paul Danuser has been a faculty member in the College of Education for three years, but is not new to the field of education. Paul has been teaching since 1981, first in Lutheran schools in Wisconsin, Washington, California and Arizona before beginning a 17-year tenure at Mountain Pointe High School in Ahwatukee, AZ. Paul has also taught in higher education since 2001 and has had the chance to share a classroom with hundreds of current elementary and high school teachers.

Outside of the classroom, Paul enjoys fitness and sports, having played competitive baseball in high school, college and men’s senior leagues across the Valley of the Sun. Paul has had the privilege of sitting behind the microphone as the PA announcer for Grand Canyon University’s men’s and women’s volleyball, basketball, softball, baseball and sand volleyball teams. Paul is married to Kellea, a women’s health nurse practitioner and educator, and together they have three adult children and one very adorable (and spoiled) grandson.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.

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