Encouragement is the most powerful tool to build connections that matter. Inside the word encouragement you find courage. The word courage comes from the Latin cor, which means ‘heart’. We look at courage as the movement we make in the direction of being our best selves. It is easier to see from the outside than the inside. Students practice courage regularly when they ask a peer for help, self regulate in a challenging situation, stand up as a bystander or even when they share something that is important to them. They may not recognize this as courage because it is who they are. Teachers often don’t recognize their courageous actions either because see the amazing things they do as just “doing my job.”
Encouragement can be seen as the space we make for others to be their best selves. In the classroom you do this in so many ways. You get down on a student’s level and talk privately. You welcome students at the door with a small touch or a question or friendly eyes, you know things about their life and share about yourself so that they can know who you are. We encourage others when we connect with them. Other ways to build connections with students include:
- I notice statements (without good, better best). “I notice you are focused today.” “I noticed that you helped Elizabeth.” “I noticed how patient you were this morning.” “I noticed that today has been rough.”
- I appreciate statements. “Thank you for your help!” “I appreciated how you waited while I was helping Tom.”
- Validate feelings. When students are upset, hear them out without giving solutions. After you have validated their feelings, empower them to come up with solutions. “It seems like you are really mad at Simon because he wasn’t sharing with you. Can you look at the wheel of choice and find a solution that might work to solve the problem?”
- Connect before correct. “Abby, it is hard to sit and eat in the lunchroom when you are still excited from playing outside and it is important to eat so you can learn this afternoon. How about taking some slow breaths with me so you can get your body ready to eat?”
Other ways to build an encouraging community:
- Teach students how to give compliments and have regular compliment circles. You can take it further with class meetings.
- Use books on courage and connection in your reading. Reading ideas: Maya Angelou’s poem Life Doesn’t Frighten Me, Watsons go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis, Say Something by Peggy Moss, Wonder by R. J. Palacio, Hatchet, by Gary Paulson, Horton Hears a Who, by Dr. Seuss, or The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles. Better yet, have regular Have students write their own book and/or poem about courage, with a personal example or that of a friend, or person in the news.
- Invite in adults to share stories (parents, educators or community members). Allow the students to ask questions.