I’m a firm believer that students learn best and grow when they are happy. Now I know it’s a lot to ask for teachers to ensure that every child is happy but I’m sure every dedicated one tries.
Whilst there are many factors that can affect how a student feels in the classroom, a healthy student-teacher relationship is among the top influences. It matters to our students what we think about them. They perceive this through our actions, our words and every inflection in our voice.
‘It matters to our students what we think about them.’
This one way of making your students happy may sound simple but it can work wonders.
The times I have committed to doing it are the times when I have seen my students’ best, most genuine smiles. It’s when I sense their hearts are filled with joy and they try their best to contain it, but their lips betray them as they grin from ear to ear, eyes bright, ears pricked.
‘I sense their hearts are filled with joy and they try their best to contain it, but their lips betray them as they grin from ear to ear, eyes bright, ears pricked.’
One way to make your students happy is to praise them – sincerely, wholly and publicly.
To do so sincerely, you must make it personal, showing them through your words that you have noticed their strengths and appreciate who they are.
To do so wholly, you must recognise that they have been wonderfully created by God and that they are are His work in progress, like you and me. The Lord is the one making them grow and as we praise our students, we must bring back the praise to their Creator, Sustainer and Saviour.
To do so publicly is something not everyone might agree with. Other teachers might feel it will embarrass some students or run the risk of sounding insincere.
Done with the right intentions and planned properly, praising students in front of their peers can be a powerful lesson on how our words impact others. Through it, you can model one way to respect and love each other.
I do this activity once a week, every Thursday morning to start off our day. We have 10 minutes and while the rest of the class quietly draw so they can listen on, I call on one student at a time and share with them my message which I have pre-typed. I speak loud enough so others can hear but the classroom is very quiet at this stage so I do not need to raise my voice or be over-the-top about it. Eye contact is key and I take my time.
I have just changed my students’ names…
Carla, you are humble and creative. I see how God has made you very clever but you never boast. You act like Jesus in that way – He was so amazing and so powerful but he was humble. You are also creative and you work with focus. That’s the same with our Heavenly Father – He pays attention to every detail and makes it beautiful. He has made you beautiful. I’m so happy you’re in my class!
Nigel, you are caring and thoughtful. God has given you a heart similar to His – He cares about everyone and is patient. I see that you try your best to be patient. You also have a grateful attitude and I appreciate it when you say thank you for the things I and other people do. I pray that Jesus continues to change your heart to be like His. I love having you in this class.
Ella, you are thoughtful and kind. You think before you speak and I believe Jesus was the same – this made His every word full of meaning and power. I’m also very excited to learn that you want to be an artist – I think you already are. Every time you create something with focus & joy, you honour God and are like Him because He created everything and He is the Greatest Artist.
Where credit is due
This classroom practice has been brought about by a few inspirations.
Not long after my post Words Are Gifts where I give tips on how to encourage and thank others with our words, I read the article The Pleasure of Praising Others which further refined my thinking about the subject. This modelled to me how I can commend people in a God-centred manner.
A few weeks before the school year started, I then stumbled upon this video where teacher Chris Ulmer compliments his students at the start of each day. This made me decide it’s worth trying the practice in front of the class.
My colleague Jen showed me a PowerPoint presentation she made, with a photo of one student per slide along with his/her interests and hobbies. This inspired me to create something similar with my message for each student.
Inspiration is found in many places. Keep your eyes peeled!
Praising students as described above takes some planning but it is worth every minute spent! I hope you try it and let me know how you go.
Warning: Don’t be surprised if in making your students happy, you find yourself full of joy too!