By Scott Sterling
I’m not one who memorizes a bunch of quotes, but one of my favorites comes from Henry Ford:
If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.
I applied that philosophy to my approach with students. If you have high expectations, students will often meet or exceed them. But the real trick was engendering the same sort of positive thinking in themselves that I had for them. Let’s face it; some of our students are coming from some negative circumstances. But feeling self-assured is a key conative skill that we’ve touched upon in some previous posts. In fact, it might be the most important.
So here are some things to consider not only to help you be more positive about your students but also help them be more positive about themselves and resilient when things don’t go according to plan.
Be the model
The first thing to remember is that you control the mood in the classroom. Students feed off your energy whether you directly address them or not. We all have bad days, and teachers have a multitude of stresses both inside and outside the classroom. But any other positivity strategies you adopt have to be modeled by you, or they will fall flat.
No complaints without solutions
Almost every day, a student will come into the room under a dark cloud probably because of something that happened outside of class. If the student’s complaining becomes too much, he or she could set off a chain reaction that derails the whole lesson.
Complaining is human and even the most positive people do it from time to time. To control it, establish a classroom rule that any complaint must be immediately followed by one or two potential solutions. Not only are you putting a positive spin on negative events, but you’re also giving the student an opportunity to work on his or her problem solving (another valuable conative skill).
We’re taught from an early age not to bring attention to our successes and abilities. No one likes it when someone boasts. However, I think we can agree that there is a world of difference between, “Wow, I did really well on that quiz” and “I’m the best speller in this whole class.” If you’re going to crack down on complaining, you need to accentuate the opposite. Again, this is a behavior you can model yourself.
Studies show that the simple act of smiling, even if you don’t have a specific reason to, can change your brain’s chemistry to allow more positive thinking. This will be incredibly goofy at first, but you might want to build a short “smile time” into the beginning of class. It doesn’t always have to be a big radiant smile (although laughing is also contagious); just a slight grin has an effect. Thirty seconds of smiling could change the entire class’s mood.
Celebrate success every day
The end of class is often a rush to pack up, summarize, and get out of there. However, get in the habit of building some time into the end of class to celebrate some general or personal successes you saw that day. They can be class wide (“You guys had such a good class discussion on that chapter”) or individual (“Jimmy really stuck with place value until he understood it”), but if you call out individual students, you need to make an effort to spread the love around over the course of the week or so.
This is an opportunity to show off your positivity toward them as well as get them thinking about the little successes that occur outside of class.
What are some other ways to grow the positive culture in your classroom? Share your thoughts with your colleagues in the Comments section.
Want to go in depth with standards-based lesson planning and cognitively complex tasks? Check out the Learning Sciences International bookstore for resources that help educators make the critical instructional shift required by rigorous standards.
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