By Sabrina Bartels – Right before Christmas break, our orchestra teacher had students write Christmas cards to teachers who inspired them. Once the students were done, the orchestra teacher began dropping cards off in teachers’ mailboxes. It was amazing watching the surprise and gratitude that crossed teachers’ faces when they saw that they had a card and read the handwritten message inside. I found the act of writing cards inspiring; so many times, I find that teachers (and other professionals!) are not appreciated for the hard work they put in.
What surprised me the most was when I found a card in my mailbox, written to me by a student who I hadn’t met with in quite a while. At the beginning of 6th grade, this student was in my office intermittently as she struggled with the death of her grandfather. As the years went on, she found that she needed my support less and less. And yet, she wrote about how much she appreciated my support and kindness throughout middle school.
I was so grateful and thrilled and surprised. It was a feeling that I wished everyone would be able to experience. And then I began to think: If I felt this wonderful being recognized, how would others feel? More specifically, how would students feel?
Students at El Dorado High School in Arizona got to see what it felt like. Teachers were asked to do a project and take pictures of people who inspire them, people that made them want to come to work every day, and people who mean something to them. They were also asked to film students’ reactions when they were asked to have their picture taken.
As you watch the video, you can clearly see how much this impacts the students. Every student had a beaming smile on their face when they were told that they were inspirational, or that they were the reason a teacher came to work every morning. A few students looked as though they were going to cry when they were told by a teacher that they were special. To see how much it meant to that student to be told something positive by their teacher really made my heart melt.
In a world where we strive so hard to integrate Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) in schools, I now wonder how many of our students feel that this praise is genuine. For example, we give our students tickets when we “catch them” being good. These tickets can be redeemed for prizes in our bookstore. As wonderful as these are, I sometimes wonder if students feel that this praise is genuine, or if it means a lot to them. We may give students tickets, and they know why they are receiving it, but is that the same as looking a student in the eye and telling them that they are inspiring? Is it the same as telling students that they are the reason you come into work every day?
The video I saw has definitely changed my viewpoint on saying and doing positive things. It makes me want to sit down with my students and remind them that regardless of how busy I am, or how tough my advice is, they are inspiring. They are worth something. They are the reason I love my job, and why I love coming to work every day (even though some days are hard!).
They mean something to me, even if it feels as though they mean nothing to other people. They are like my own children. They are loved. I want my students to know that they matter, that their life is affecting someone’s, that they are having as much of an impact on me as I (hopefully) have on them. I want them to know that even when I’m having a bad day, they can cheer me up.
I encourage you to check this video out here. Then, find your students and tell them something positive. Whether that student is the one who always completes their work on time, or if he/she is the student who frustrates you, tell them that they are loved and appreciated. And then, enjoy the radiant smile that’s bound to come across their faces.