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The Danger of the Savior Mentality in Education

Photo by Daniel Harden

If a school bus was hanging on a cliff, about to fall in a valley; would you try to handle the situation yourself or seek help? Most, if not all of us, will choose the latter. Oftentimes , educators with a savior's mentality tend to side with the first option out of good intention of doing right, but end up hurting themselves and everyone involved in the process. To be clear, this is not a post to bash educators, it's a gentle reminder that you are working in an inequitable system that is not designed to meet the needs of ALL students and teachers. By trying to "do the best you can," to provide communal help on your own, you find yourself functioning with a Savior's Mentality.

First of all, if you are working at a school educating the minds of tomorrow, I want to say thank you for your service! As you seek to refuel and recharge for the next two weeks of winter break, I hope this short read can help you do some critical reflection on how to focus on making choices that can help transform systems instead of circumstances. As educators, we do wear a lot of hats, but savior should not be one of them. That legendary status belong to Jesus, the only figure who, through his life, teachings, and sacrificial death, miraculously offered salvation, physical, emotional, and spiritual assistance to humanity.

The Savior's Mentality in education refers to the belief that a teacher, through their sheer dedication and efforts, can single-handedly rescue students from challenging circumstances. While the intention is often rooted in genuine care and concern, this biased mindset can lead to a range of issues that hinder the overall educational experience. It is seen frequently with white people who serve minority populations, especially in urban schools. One individual cannot change a child's life around, it takes a community. The central focus should be to support parents. In my latest book, The Education Formula: Maximizing The Village, I highlight the roles and responsibilities of every stakeholder. Research and experience confirm that healing and sustainable change come from a web of supportive people.

Dangers of the Savior's Mentality:

  1. Dependency: When educators assume the role of the sole savior, students may become overly dependent on their educators, diminishing their ability to develop crucial problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

  2. Burnout: Educators grappling with the Savior's Mentality often find themselves overburdened, emotionally exhausted, and susceptible to burnout as they carry the weight of unrealistic expectations.

  3. Diminished Student Agency: Students may feel disempowered or believe they lack control over their own success, as the Savior's Mentality suggests their achievements are solely dependent on the teacher's intervention.

  4. Dangerous Assumptions: I'm the only one who can help these students. They're not getting any love at home and the school doesn't have the necessary resources.

Counteracting the Savior's Mentality:

  1. Parent Empowerment: Encourage a shift from a savior mindset to one of empowerment for parents/guardians. Challenge assumptions about caregivers and work on ways to help them remove the barriers they face. Remember, you educate the child for a season, caregivers parent them for a lifetime.

  2. Cultivate Student Independence: Design learning experiences that promote student autonomy. Encourage self-directed learning, problem-solving, and decision-making to build resilience and confidence.

  3. Foster a Supportive Community: Develop a strong support system within the school community. Encourage open communication between teachers, students, support staff, counselors, and parents to create an environment where everyone is invested in each student's success.

  4. Professional Development: Provide ongoing professional development for teachers to enhance their instructional strategies, cultural competence, and empathy, fostering a more inclusive and effective teaching approach.

  5. Collaboration is Key: Emphasize collaboration between teachers, support staff, community, and parents. Recognize that addressing students' needs is a collective effort that benefits from diverse perspectives and insights.

While the desire to make a positive impact on students is commendable, it's essential for educators to recognize and counteract the potential dangers associated with the Savior's Mentality. By fostering collaboration, empowerment, and independence, teachers can create an environment that not only supports students' academic success, but also prepares them for a lifetime of learning and growth. Best of all, it will allow you to take the unnecessary "hats" off so you can grow into the highly effective educator you are created to be.

Berwick Augustin is the founder of Evoke180, a leading publishing company that also specializes in Haitian-Creole translations. He is an educational consultant and keynote speaker who embodies two decades of experience as a writer, teacher, and assistant principal. Berwick is the author, most recently, of The Education Formula, Days, Months, and Seasons in Haitian-Creole, The Haitian-Creole Alphabet-and 1803 The Haitian Flag.

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