10 Small Ways to Brighten a Student’s Day by Richard Regina
Teachers constantly strive to create a positive learning environment. To most, that positivity ties in to an environment conducive to learning. To students, a positive environment means a place they feel warm and welcome. Every day, a teacher has a chance to brighten a student’s day by doing something small. As a principal of a local high school, I posed a question to 15 or so teachers- What do you do specifically to brighten a student’s day? Interestingly, all of the little things they do are just that, little. They take little effort, cost little money, but all of them brighten a student’s day and that has a tremendous impact on a student. Students that feel positive and welcomed are more likely to take positive risks, face failure, and experience true learning.
More than anything else, one will see the way to brighten a day has nothing to do with content, tests, or the teacher; rather, it is the focus a students social and emotional needs. Students that feel good about themselves are more likely to engage in learning. Before, during, and after students are students, they are humans, and we have to figure out ways to humanize our schools and classrooms. This list, though, contains small creative gestures that can brighten a student’s day that do not take much effort, but just a little thought:
- Stand outside your door during each passing period and try to greet each student by name and with a genuine welcoming smile. With large classes, one may not be able to call on each kid at some point during the instruction time, but we can for sure let them know that we “see” them individually as they enter my room. She has a stack of notes from former students and many of them mention this–it’s something she learned from “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Quote: Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
- Do birthday cards and candy. At the beginning of every school year, she gets the birthdays of all students and puts the on a calendar. On that special day, she wishes the student a happy birthday and gives them a piece of candy. For all, it puts a smile on their face that someone is recognizing them on their special day. For others, it might be the first time someone says happy birthday to them as both parents may leave for work before the student wakes up. For a few, it might be the only time someone says happy birthday to them.
- Recognize the most improved scores in each unit. Students with the highest scores always seem to get recognized. Taking the time to encourage the most improved puts the spotlight on a different student and really encourages the growth mindset. A student that previously scored a 52% on and assessment and now scores a 78% has made tremendous strides, and he or she should be commended. This way, the teacher is not necessarily rewarding the score, but she is rewarding the effort and improvement.
- Dare to take an interest in something a student is interested in. This teacher had a couple quiet students interested in English Premier League soccer. Rather than play along in the conversation, he did a tiny bit of research and engaged the student in a conversation. In fact, when the bell rings each day to end class, the teacher plays a highlight clip from the night before and has created common ground with that student. Each day, the student looks forward to coming to class because he gets his daily dose of something he truly enjoys talking about.
- If you have a student from your class lose a parent, make note and follow up. In fact, this teacher makes it a point to follow up the following years when he does not have student in class. While it is revisiting a tough time for a student, it is reassuring for that student that someone is still thinking about them. Losing a parent is extremely difficult, and one never truly gets over that. This is especially tough for a young student. Many may not show any outward signs that the death is impacting them a year later, and their current teacher may not know they lost a parent, but having an adult just checking in on them can be very comforting and give them someone to talk to.
- Make a positive phone call home about a student and have a conversation with a parent. For many, the only phone call home is a negative one, and for many more, they never even get a phone call. Taking the time to make one positive call home daily will ensure every student gets at least one positive comment that school year. The impact of that can be powerful as it might spark a dinner table conversation at home. At school, it reinforces to students the teacher does see the good going on in class. It is one thing to tell a student they did a good job, it is even more encouraging for a student when a teacher shares that with another adult.
- Take on a student in his or her comfort zone. For example, if you know a student is involved in chess club, show up at a club meeting and challenge the student. In your classroom, you are the content expert, but at chess club, the student is the content expert. Being vulnerable highlights the fact that you are human, and having a student see you as human is positive for the student-teacher relationship. Having a student teach you about something empowers the student and can create smiles in the classroom.
- Tweet pictures from your classroom with positive comments. When students get home from school and check Twitter to see their smiling faces, it reinforces to them school and learning can be fun. In addition, it makes them think about the positive experience they had in class. Students are quick to retweet and like for their friends to see, so it is obvious that a simple Tweet with a small comment goes a long way.
- Create a brag board that excludes work from your class. Students are accustomed to having their best work on display in a classroom, but giving them an outlet to brag about other things going on in their life creates a positive atmosphere. Some students may brag about an accomplishment on a football field while others may brag about something at home. Either way, it is a great way for students of different backgrounds to get to know each other as well as a tremendous outlet for students to share all the good they are doing in the world. There is more going on in a student’s world than what is going on in an individual class.
- Set up a day to meet a group of students for breakfast over winter break. For most students, the holidays are a time of joy, but for others they are not. Setting up a day over winter break to meet at the local donut shop is a great way to make student smile and see you outside of the classroom setting. In addition, it may give some students something to look forward to over the holidays. Meeting at a public place on December 26 might just be the highlight of break for a student. For students that have a joyous break, eating donuts is just a bonus, and it might also spark conversations with students that normally do not talk to each other.
Certainly, we have heard about some of these strategies before so they are not completely new, but when consciously implemented, they can make a huge difference for a student. Making a student smile often requires a simple act that can have long lasting positive effects. The idea of brightening a student’s day is not a complex one, but it is one that requires effort and follow through. On the surface, this list does not seem all that creative as the gestures are simple, but as with many examples of creativity, it is the practice as well as the constant evolution that makes something creative truly effective. Though it seems exhaustive, creativity requires us to constantly question, reflect, and improve, so this list is just a starting point and not the solution.
While a student has a huge capacity for learning, as educators, we must remind ourselves that they are human beings and must find creative ways to address those social emotional needs. Shifting the focus from content and assessment to students and learning may seem like a massive change in philosophy, but just a few ideas strategically sprinkled with sincerity can make it a minor shift in practice, and the students will feel the difference in your classroom and you will see the difference in their performance.