Three Basic Things All Teachers Should Do to Transform Lives

Teachers have the power to transform lives – for better or worse. It takes so little on our part to make a significant and positive difference in the lives of our students. Start the new year by practicing three very simple policies:

1. See the good in every student and make sure they know it. We teach because we love children. Let that show. Start every conversation with a student by sincerely noting or praising their strengths. Even in the most frustrating of situations, diffuse tension and open communication lines by first noting the child’s strong points. Make sure to point out their gifts and positive efforts in front of peers too

2. Avoid punishment – always. You may have to remind yourself constantly that punishment is not an effective way to change behavior. Despite the brief immediate stress relief we may feel at the time, punishment degrades the spirit, jeopardizes relationships, leads to more aggression and exacerbates the problem. Use some type of reinforcer instead.

Just this week I heard a teacher tell a student, “This is the 2nd day in a row you’ve come to class without your notebook. If it happens again, you’re going to lose some privileges”. The child nodded, grumbled, hung her head down looking dejected and shuffled back to her desk. With a simple sentence, the teacher made the classroom environment an uncomfortable place and set up a confrontational agenda with the student. How much better to have said, “Jenna, you seem to have a hard time remembering your notebook. Let’s see if we can come up with a way to help you remember. If you can come a bit early tomorrow and remember to bring your notebook with you, you’ll get to be in charge of feeding the goldfish for me”. Reinforcers work by making the CHILD want the behavioral change as much as the teacher.

3. Compliment the effort taken for success rather than assume a natural gift in the child. “You work so hard on your spelling and it’s really paying off” is much better than “You are so good at spelling,” The difference between a “hopeful” attitude and a “hopeless” one comes down to a sense of control over one’s life. Those who feel they are either born winners or born losers and there is nothing they can do to change that, end up seeing life as “hopeless”. Those who see that winners and losers are the result of one’s effort and choices tend to be hopeful people. “I’m not good at math” versus “I’m not good at math yet, but I’m working on it.”

Small changes on your part can lead to big changes in your students, your classroom and your school. Don’t just teach – celebrate it!