Last week I experienced the work of a genius educator. When I arrived home from work, my ten-year-old daughter excitedly brought me her report card for the first half of the school year. The grades were basically all perfect except for the category called “organization” – how well the student does in bringing the appropriate books to class and keeping her homework and notes organized. In that category, my daughter received an A- (shocking, but true).

But there was something different about the minus sign. “Look abba, my teacher wrote the minus in pencil. She told me that she knows that really I can be much neater and that if I improve over the next half of the year she’ll erase the minus.”

I was floored by the teacher’s clever motivation technique. When trying to motivate our children or students we often use external means. We tell them that if they improve we’ll take them out to eat or buy them a toy that they’ve been begging us for. That method often works, but there is a much more basic, effective way to energize and motivate others to change – show them that you believe that their essence is greater. Give them the confidence in their own potential to perform better.

Give your kids the confidence in their own potential to perform better.

Instead of my daughter feeling badly or down for being disorganized, she was excited about the opportunity to show her teacher her “real” self. She called her grandparents to tell them about it. She was empowered, in a positive way, to grow and change.

When a parent or teacher relates to the child in this way, he or she strengthens the trust that forms the foundation of their relationship, allowing the child to feel safe enough to open up and reveal his feelings or past experiences so that the one influencing him can give proper advice and direction.

Giving a child the recognition of his inner greatness enables him to overcome challenges and gives him the confidence to strive to reach his potential. He knows he has what it takes.

Lastly, one cannot properly influence and change another person if he does not believe in the person. Since he doesn’t really think that the person can change, he won’t be precise with his advice and won’t bother investing his fullest in trying to help the person. He won’t be able to relay the message with the same enthusiasm and passion or be willing to follow up with the person after their discussion.

In The Song of Songs, God tells the Jewish people “You are completely beautiful, my beloved, there is no blemish in you” (4:7). Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, in his kabbalistic work Tomer Devora (1:6) writes that although the Jewish People makes mistakes, God doesn’t view those mistakes as part of our essence; they are superficial. God writes any minus with a pencil, showing us that He believes in our ability to do better and giving us the opportunity to erase it.

In any type of relationship, writes Rabbi Cordevero, we should act Godlike and view others as innately pure. By doing so, we can elevate others towards reaching their ultimate potential. It’s as easy as using a pencil instead of a pen.