Overheard in My Classroom: Building Bridges to Students

building bridgesOne sophomore girl to another: “My parents go on and on about things I’ve done wrong… but they never say anything about all the things I do right!”

If you’re a parent, your first reaction to this quote is likely, “Oh, come on. They NEVER say ANYTHING about what you do right?”

Your reaction may be a little skewed depending on your particular perspective, but there’s one thing you can’t deny about what I overheard: kids often feel as if their failures get center stage, and their successes aren’t lauded much at all.

My classroom has taught me two things about this:

• Regardless of what we know, we have to give credence to what our students feel.
• This student could easily have substituted “my teacher” for “my parents.”

How much time do I spend on my students’ successes compared to the lectures on their unacceptable behavior or their apathy?

I think we figure, as do parents, that kids should know when they’re doing something right. This is especially true when teaching upper-school students. We figure they’ll think praise is cheesy or we’ll embarrass them. But they need to hear the positive reinforced.

One day I paid particular attention to the number of negative interactions versus the positive ones, and it became crystal clear. I was much more apt to say, “Joe, pay attention, please” than “Alex, that’s exactly right. Such a good point!”

Expressing gratitude for the small things students do is another way to build a positive learning environment in the classroom. I do expect them to hand out books when I ask or collect something for me, but there’s nothing wrong with thanking them for doing it. “Thanks for helping with those books” can go a long way towards building bridges. And sometimes the students who will get up out of their seats and DO something aren’t the scholarly ones, but they need those kudos even more.

We don’t need to manufacture happiness or approval. Our students will see right through that. But there are plenty of small things we can say to reinforce positive behavior in our classrooms. And they don’t always need to be said in front of the class. Sometimes pulling Joe aside right before he goes out the door makes the praise seem more special, more individualized, and even more genuine.

What would I love for my students’ parents to overhear at home? “My teacher always notices when I help or do something right. I used to not like English, but it’s not so bad this year.”

How are you building bridges to your students?

About the Author
Laura Lee Groves has spent the last twenty-some years teaching at Westminster Academy in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Even after 20 years, each day is a new one with students. When she began studying education, her dad told her she was “born to the chalk.” That has morphed to a dry erase marker, but her love for teaching and students has never changed. She is now pursuing her PhD and is the mom of four redheaded sons, now grown.