“Brain research has made clear that humans are as much emotional creatures as cognitive ones. Learning is transactional—not just cognitively, but emotionally. Our thinking is inextricably laced with our feelings. Students—from kindergarteners to high schoolers—look to educators for unconditional acceptance. We hear all the time that our best teachers love their students, regardless of their age or achievement. They love their students before they try before they achieve.
I’ve spent a lot of my career working with overlooked, economically exploited, and abused students. Many of them, like the Latino character in Boyhood, are from minority groups who need to experience caring communication and supportive expectations early and repeatedly in their relationships in school. I’ve often looked a young person in the eye and said, “You’re capable of great things. I believe in you.” I said this before I had rock-solid evidence to support my claims, but the student could hear it only if I truly believed it.
Neuroscience tells us that humans have mirror neurons, the capacity to engender in another person a strong feeling we ourselves are having. When I say “I believe in you,” I’m not a statistician reciting data; I am working in a far deeper vein of human connectedness. My belief in students, my love for them, becomes part of the very wiring of their existence.
There is a spiritual aspect to teaching if you believe you have the ability to help all students experience their innate, best inner selves. As Deepak Chopra (2011) says,
Everyone has a purpose in life … a unique gift or special talent to give to others. And when we blend this unique talent with service to others, we experience the ecstasy and exultation of our own spirit, which is the ultimate goal of all goals.
Chopra’s language is miles away from the imperative to identify students’ worth by measuring incremental growth on objective criteria.
Making It Happen
Let’s consider some practices that help teachers express unconditional positive regard, that recognize the range of human qualities to value in students, and that don’t encourage meaningless repetitions of “good job.”
• In your own words, say to every student every day—and frequently to the whole class—”You are capable of learning everything in the lessons. I’ll help you succeed as you try. You are all worthwhile people.”
• Make the effort to enjoy every student. Say hello to every one of the first thing every day, with a look in the eye and maybe a handshake or fist bump. Let each of them know that by crossing the threshold of your classroom, in your eyes they are worthy of being part of the class. For students who are wary of adults and push away connections, consistently throw in a quick observation of their uniqueness: “Love that hat” or “Your essay got me thinking.”
• End classes with one minute of students acknowledging one another positively. Model and participate: “I saw Darnell make Seth smile”; “I’m going to be thinking all day about Siobhan’s theory about the election.”
• Let students know you notice and are affected by their special characteristics: “Marie, I was watching you totally focused on your essay. That made my day. I have this image of you hard at work that will make me smile for a long time.” “Chen, when I see how often you help other students, I realize again what caring people do in this world. Thanks.” There will be occasional students who don’t believe you are sincere. For them, your sincerity must be stronger and deeper than their doubt—and must emerge moment after moment, day after day, to overcome their doubt. Building trust and relationships isn’t a one-time event, but a foundation of best practice.
• Praise students even as you give them critical feedback or a consequence: “Jo, you’re going to have to stay after today and clean up that mess you made. I appreciate right now that you’re listening to me calmly and letting me finish my sentence.”
• Give choices and options for lessons and assessments. Highlight for students your discoveries about their unique passions: “Sasha, I’m not surprised you wanted to do the painting option. You get great joy in doing art. I love to watch you having so much fun.”
• Find opportunities (quick e-mails home, comments on report cards, parent-night conversations) to provide a student and his or her parents with information about that student’s unique ways of being. This is for high school teachers, too! The focus on standardized tests doesn’t prevent teachers from sharing other forms of acknowledgment and affirmation.
Offering unconditional positive regard to students may become your favorite daily activity. And the power you have as a role model for others at school—whether you’re the principal or one teacher among many—will ripple out to every corner of the building, leading to a culture that appreciates everyone.”
From: The Power of Positive Regard by Jeffrey Benson http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/jun16/vol73/num09/The-Power-of-Positive-Regard.aspx