A Little Encouragement Goes A Long Way
The first day of school is quickly approaching all across the United States. Perhaps a little bit of panic is setting in? Excitement? Celebration? Hopefully, not dread.
The first day of school is always one of my favorite days of the entire year. Everyone has a renewed sense of purpose and vigor. Ideas are flowing. Minds are ready. In many ways, it is like that first day of spring up north. After a long, cold, and dreary winter it is time for the rejuvenation and life that spring brings.
Encouragement is needed throughout the entire school year. Encouragement is needed on that first day, that 50th day, and on that last day.
Let me tell you a little story about the power of encouragement. I was never a star student. I worked hard, but not a lot clicked for me. I often struggled through math, writing, and literature class in high school and college. My favorite subjects have always been history and science. While at MLC, I took Professor Theodore Hartwig as much as I possibly could for my history electives. While many considered him a challenging professor who had very high expectations, I loved learning from him. I struggled in some of his classes, all of the reading and studying was, at times, very demanding.
The last class I took with Professor Hartwig was on the life of Martin Luther. At the end of the class we had to complete a 20-30 page paper/timeline on Luther’s life. Up and to that point, I had never worked on anything with that much focus in my life. Day and night, for weeks, I worked on that paper. Even though I had spent class after class with B’s and C’s, I did not want to disappoint him.
Professor Hartwig gave me an “A” on that project. However, that is not why I am telling you this story.
I was going to lunch the next day and Professor Hartwig stopped me in the hallway. He took me aside and told me that was the best work he had ever seen me complete. It meant the world to me and my future work.
It begs the question though, why did it mean so much?
*It was sincere.
I appreciated it because I knew he meant it.
*It was specific.
He could’ve just said, “great job on that paper.” But he didn’t, he made it specific and made it personal.
*You had to earn it.
He was not the type of professor who just threw around praise. You had to earn his praise, which made it all the more meaningful.
Professor Hartwig cared about the students he had. Believe me, I blew many of his quizzes and tests. He would lovingly call you out and get you back on track. That is what a great teacher does really well.
Professor Hartwig didn’t just teach me history. He taught me how to be a teacher. He taught me how to be a better worker. He, in a major way, gave me a life-long example of how to encourage others.
The student who receives the least amount of encouragement and praise in your classroom is probably the student who needs it the most. Who are you going to encourage your first day of school? More importantly, how are you going to encourage them?
Brain research is invaluable. It gives parents and educators an insight of not only how we learn, but an even greater insight into how the children, whom we are serving, learn. It is imperative that educators stay informed on the latest findings so they can implement needed changes in their classroom and teaching philosophy.
The following findings come from the iNACOL paper Cracking the Code: Synchronizing Policy and Practice for Performance-Based Learning. Mind, Brain, and Education is the first in a nine paper series from JFF called Students at the Center.
The following are a few of the key findings in their research.
Students’ brains continually adapt to the environments where they live and work…
Surroundings matter. The climate and culture of your school and your individual classroom is paramount in the education of that child. Therefore, if we provide a safe, caring environment a student’s brain will learn to trust and thrive in that environment.
Emotions direct students’ learning processes, helping them gravitate toward positive situations and away from negative ones…
Emotions matter. We are not only teaching the mind, we are teaching the heart. A student must be emotionally stable for a positive learning outcome to appear.
When students from disadvantaged backgrounds are in high-quality schools, their cortisol levels decrease throughout the day. The better the school, the more the cortisol levels decrease…
Schools and Structure matter. A quality learning environment can help students reach healthy coritsol levels, which lead to better emotional regulation and more favorable learning outcomes. Disadvantaged students can thrive, they however must be in a quality setting to have that chance to succeed.
Environments that promote positive relationships and a sense of community promote learning…
Relationships matter. It makes sense doesn’t it? If a student has a positive relationship with their teacher, that is more likely to have a positive effect on their education as a whole. Principals and teachers should focus on building positive relationships with their students. When positive relationships are coupled with a favorable school culture and climate, the student has the environment and surroundings to thrive.
So what is the big picture?
Physical and emotional wellness matter in education. The way we foster positive physical and emotional wellness is by building relationships, providing a positive culture and climate, and imparting structure in all that we do. Physical and emotional wellness has already been a growing trend within education that past decade. These findings show us the reason for that, and provide us with the evidence that we need to take to heart.
How is your school, your classroom, your home going to strengthen the physical and emotional wellness of the children you serve?
What could have been, if I had only reacted differently? What could have been if I had shown more patience? How can I respond better to that student? How can I communicate better with that family?
Questions can keep you up at night. Problems and situations can keep you up at night. My own sinful imperfection keeps me up at night wondering how I could handle classroom and school situations differently.
The problem is that I know, as a teacher, I can do better. Those are the things that keep me up at night.
Why did I react with anger instead of love?
How could I have handled that upset parent in a better manner?
Why hasn’t my classroom management been effective for that student?
Why did I fail as a teacher, today?
These are all tough questions, but they are important questions. It is vital that we, as teachers, see ourselves as imperfect teachers. I fully realize, as a profession, we are already very hard on ourselves.
Therefore, I am not calling on us, to beat ourselves up further. I am calling on us to reflect.
Reflection is one of the most critical aspects of effective teaching. Realizing our imperfections, we must push ourselves to think outside our box. To leave our comfort zone, and learn about areas that we are not familiar.
I wish I was a better teacher for my students. I wish that every discipline problem would be handled well. I wish that I could have the perfect answer for every struggling student.
But I don’t. I’m imperfect. I need help, and I always need to grow. We all do.
Did you ever have that teacher who looked like they would rather amputate their left leg than be in the classroom that day?
That doesn’t exactly make for an exciting day of learning.
Here is the big question…shouldn’t we, as Lutheran educators, be the happiest educators of them all? Every day we get to share the story of God’s amazing grace with our students. Every day we can apply proper use of law and gospel as the greatest aid in classroom management every created. Every day we have the opportunity to sit down with our students for a religion lesson, devotion, and prayer. Every day we can present history, science, and all of our other subjects from a biblical point of view.
You may be thinking, its easy to display that happiness on day one of the school year, but what about after eight straight days of discipline issues and three days in a row of little Johnny puking his guts out?
I am going to challenge you to have the mindset that those are the days where it all the more important to show that happiness in Christ.
Even on their worst days, your students must know they are loved…
Yes, firm discipline must be present. Yes, we must show our displeasure with their actions. Therefore, we must also show that love that our Savior has for us even though we screw up every, single day.
Your students must know you are in control…
Show that even on the worst of days, you are in control of yourself and your emotions. Don’t we preach that to our students and children all the time? We must be the model of that behavior for them.
Show those students why you love being a called worker…
I heard that we had over 40 schools who did not receive a teacher graduate out of MLC that requested one this year. That number is shocking! One of our must important jobs is to prepare the students we have for a lifetime of service. If they see us as miserable in our callings, than why would they ever want that calling for themselves? I think we could do an entire blog post on this topic. Show the love for your calling, so your students can see the incredible blessing that is the public ministry.
My 11th Commandment in my classroom…
Thou must laugh every day. Of course I don’t mean to make light of the 10 commandments, what I am saying is that laughter and happiness should take a priority in your ministry and your classroom. Just food for thought.
Finally, be happy. Be happy to know that God is using you to proclaim His Word. Be happy to know that the redeeming work of faith is not up to us and our imperfections. Be happy to know that the Holy Spirit is in charge of that work, our job is to plant the seed.
Be happy in Him, and always show your happiness.
“Positive anything is better than negative nothing.”
School-wide climate and culture is a major topic in the world of education. We see district and state wide attempts to change that climate and culture within schools. With anything though, change begins at the bottom-up. Change begins in our individual classrooms. Our classrooms must be a sincere example of positivity.
Now before we get further on how to affect this change, we must first clear the air on one topic. Creating a classroom climate of positivity does not mean we forgo correction, honest feedback, and discipline. It is quite the opposite. It is out of positive love that we correct, give sincere feedback, and carefully discipline. Those are the building blocks of a positive classroom environment.
They, however, are not the foundation. This is the unique blessing we have in teaching in a Christian environment at the foot of the cross. Every day our foundation of a positive classroom must begin and end with the gospel message that we are His children. The foundation of the law and gospel is what affects positive change in the life of a child. Every day, it is our job as Lutheran educators, to share with our students that they are forgiven and loved.
So with Him as our foundation, how can we continue to foster and build a classroom of positivity?
Sharing with each child that they are a redeemed child of God…
This gives them a sense of self-worth. This gives them the power to know that no matter how much they screw-up, they have a Savior who loves them.
Build a relationship with your students…
As Lutheran educators, we have a unique bond with those we serve. Show them that gospel love that we talk about in class every day. Take a special interest in them. Go to their baseball games, dance recitals, and birthday parties. Keep up with them after they leave their class. As they grow into their teenage years share an encouraging message with them via texting, facebook, or twitter. Most importantly, be there for them.
Be firm and consistent…
Don’t allow negative behavior to grow. Handle it right away. That student will respect you for it, and your entire class will thrive with the knowledge that you are providing a safe, family environment for them.
Be direct, specific, and to the point when giving praise…
While you show your firm side, don’t hesitate to give praise when deserved. Always be sincere and honest, never make something up just to give praise for the sake of praise. Your students will appreciate it and love you for it.
This is by no means an all-ecompasing guide to a positive classroom. If you have your own ideas, share them!
“Education is understanding relationships.”
Who of you had a teacher that made all the difference in the world for you? Most successful people had a teacher in their life that made an impact on them. Why did that teacher make an impact? Why were they any different than every other teacher?
Inevitably, the relationship that teacher was able to develop with that individual is at the heart of what made them special. “They cared about me.” “They took a special interest in my life.” “They challenged me and pushed me further than I thought possible.” Those are just a sampling of the responses I’ve heard throughout the years to that question.
First, a little background on me. I teach in a small WELS (Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod) school in Friendswood, Texas. I teach grades 6-8. I have taught other combinations such as grades 2-5 and 5-8. I am also the principal of the school. Now to many, this may sound like a crazy idea. Its not. I love my job, I love my calling. God has blessed our school beyond measure, and has given me a lifetime of memories with the students whom I serve.
I love this job for one, very simple reason. I am allowed to develop relationships with the students who are in my classroom. I often hear from prospective parents to our school, “How do all of those grades in one classroom, work?” The answer is simple. We are family. We can push students to whatever level they need to be. I have 8th graders who have completed Algebra II or Advanced Literature simply because God gave them those talents, and we were able to move them at the level they needed to be moved.
The bigger concept of why it works comes down to what we started with. Relationships are formed. What better bond than having a students for three, four, five years at a time? There is no going through that adjustment period year after year. There is no having to learn how that individual student learns best year after year. Through time together, you grow to know one another.
As this blog starts out, I intend to share those stories of relationships with you. I also intend to share with you thoughts and musings from an imperfect teacher and principal. I want this to be a community. A community of educators and parents talking about and pushing one another for the benefit of one group…our students.