Leading with Encouragement

Encouragement is one of your most important tools as a teacher. You can’t make your students learn, but you can help them find the internal resources to engage in learning, connect with others and become part of the classroom community. There are many ways to bring out your students’ best selves. Like other academic strategies you use, your relationship with the student is a key element. To be encouraged, a student must feel felt, seen and valued. Your intentional connection, consistent presence and descriptive language can help develop these feelings in young people.  Students who have had adverse experiences will tend to interpret your actions through a lens of mistrust or suspicion. They have honed their skills of reading non-verbal cues and have narrow resiliency windows when they feel judged (good or bad).  In order to be encouraging you must also be authentic. It means seeing and respecting the uniqueness of each child. Have faith that they are capable of learning from their mistakes, without the need for shame or punishment. Some tips for creating an encouraging classroom.:

  • Teach your class how reframe mistakes as opportunities to learn rather than failures. Practice making mistakes and repairing them.
  • Involve students in class jobs. It invites them to know that they are a valued and contributing member of the class community.
  • Start your class meetings with compliments so that students learn how to give and receive authentic compliments.
  • Be descriptive in feedback and minimize praise. (“You were able to finish the work,” instead of, “Good job.” “Thank you for your help,” instead of, “You did it like I wanted.”)
  • Be a mirror for your student. Allow them to see what you see. Help them to notice the things they are doing well, and the things that are challenging. “I notice you were able to share supplies with your partner and be helpful during math today,” or “I notice you had a hard time staying focused during the story.”
  • Focus on improvement rather than perfection.
  • Ask questions to clarify the student’s point of view. “What was your understanding of _____?”