We don't usually receive feedback when things are going well. The book suggests a couple different ideas for getting positive affirmation:
- Give your students a homework assignment to tell you the two things you do that they like the most.
- At an open house, ask parents to write down at least one positive thing they have heard or seen from their child about the class.
- Ask a colleague to observe you teach and then share specific things he/she thinks you do really well and any suggestions they might have for how you might get even better.
- Consider writing occasional notes of appreciation to colleagues and administrators as well as to students when they do or say something that is thoughtful of others.
But the one that sticks with me most is one I first read in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book when I was a young teenager. A teacher named Ms. Mrosla had all of her students write down one positive thing about every student in the class. Then she gave each student the comments that were made about them. One of her students ended up later dying in the service and at the funeral the mom told her that they had found his list in his pocket. Several other classmates that were attending the funeral pulled theirs out too. The students had kept them years later for when they needed a boost. That story impacted me deeply and reading it in this book brought it back to my mind.
I decided to do this with my achievement period. It's the most laid back class of all and I feel like the students have had a lot of fun with each other. I started them out by telling them I was going to do something lame so let's go ahead and groan and get it over with. Then I split them up so that everyone was sitting by themselves. I asked them to put their mature selves on and to be really thoughtful and write a positive comment about each person. I asked them to avoid saying 'he's nice' or 'she's funny' but to really give it some thought. The class was completely silent while they thought and wrote. I was really proud of them for that.
I put "First Hour Fan Club" on top of the paper, then 'I am a fan of ________ because:' and I put myself on the paper too. If I want to know what my students think about me, all I have to do is ask.
Later I asked them their favorite color. I printed the first letter of their name as big as I could get it on colored card stock. Then, I took all the comments about each person and wrote them inside their letter. I did this for two reasons. 1, so they would not know who wrote which comments and 2, because handwriting is so much more personal than typing it up on the computer. As I was writing them, I added my own comments to make sure that everyone had plenty to read.
Here's what they looked like.
I'm not going to share any of the comments written because they are personal to my students and me. I wanted to share an idea that makes a positive impact on students and yourself. Students really enjoyed reading them and a lot of them went and told what they had written. Some didn't. It was a beautiful thing.
I have an encouragement wall next to my desk where I have cards from when I graduated college, thank you cards, pictures students drew me, school pictures of past students, quotes, and anything that just encourages me and boosts my spirit. This will definitely go up there as well. I want the students to see that their comments are important to me.
There's two other things I do that really means a lot to students and I'm sharing them so that you can think about ways to impact your students in the same way.
One is that on a student's birthday, I buy them their favorite candy and I write them a little letter. Of course they enjoy the candy but they've told me how they hung the letters up in their room or keep it in their mirror, etc. It's something I'm good at and enjoy doing but mostly I think everyone deserves to receive something on their birthday, something that makes them feel noticed. I think of my letter as "I notice you..." letters. It's more about what I see in them than anything related to their birthday. Maybe you don't want to spend the money but writing a note or just expressing what you notice is cheap and easy and meaningful. We have the gift of being able to see what a student can be as well as what they are. It's hard for teenagers to step outside of themselves and make observations about who they are. It's hard for adults too. We know how powerful and lasting an impression a teacher can make. I consider this my contribution to forming their identity. Maybe they can't see what I see, but maybe knowing that I see it is a start.
The second thing is that at the end of the year, I make certificates for every student in every class I teach. I just make something up on PowerPoint and then give everyone something that starts with "most likely to..." and describes them. The important thing is not what you write but that everyone is noticed, everyone feels like they have a title or position, and that everyone receives some positive feedback. This is always a hit with the students. I wait until the last day before finals to read them, calling each student up to get theirs. After the first few, students are clapping and laughing after each one is called. It really creates a positive mood in the classroom and is just a fun way to wrap up the good memories of the year. Later some students tell me this is the only certificate they've ever 'won' and how much it means to them.
Paper is cheap but telling someone how important they are is priceless.