I have 5 kids in my second grade class who take most of my attention because of their misbehavior. I feel so badly for the other students who are on task and listening, because honestly, they don’t get very much of my attention. I try to point out what Level D looks like and give these great students more freedom but still I don’t feel that’s enough. How can let these wonders know that they are being wonderful?
We often had discussions about this on my staff years ago. Some of us were starting to feel uncomfortable with rewards, awards and trophies etc., but our principal at the time felt that the “good kids never got anything.” He felt they needed trophies and stickers etc. in order to feel encouraged.
I had to disagree. The good kids certainly do get something for their goodness! These “wonderful kids” automatically experience successes in school in many ways as a direct result of their Level C and D behavior:
- School is a happy and positive place for them.
- They naturally make a lot of friends.
- They experience that teachers and peers like them.
- They have many experiences that make them feel good––for instance, they might often receive good marks
- Inner rewards naturally arise in anyone who chooses to actively participate, cooperate, contribute, be of service. etc. etc.
In my opinion we encourage these high-fuctioning kids most effectively, when we simply and quietly acknowledge to them that they are on the right path, and also when we express genuine appreciation to them for being the wonderful persons that they are.
If I see a student do something indicative of a high level that I feel is important enough to point out, I do it privately and most often, after the fact. An hour later, at lunch time or even the next day I find time to talk to the child.
An example from when I taught in the intermediate grades…
Hey, Trevor, I wanted to tell you what I noticed yesterday. Do you remember in math class when there were a number of kids who were fooling around instead of doing their assignment? Well, all during that time, I noticed that you were able to keep your focus. I saw that you looked up once or twice but basically you understood that what they were doing wasn’t helpful to themselves or anyone else and so you just got back to your own work. By the end of the class, you had all your questions completed and you didn’t have any homework. How does it feel inside when you act in a self-disciplined way like that? (Then smile and walk away.)
An example from my literacy work at the alternate high school…
Zack, this morning when we were playing Scrabble, I really appreciated the kindness that you showed to Corey and Matt. The way you supported them when they got some of their spellings wrong showed real sensitivity. You helped them correct their spelling but you did it in such a way that you let them save face––by making a joke of your help. It allowed Corey and Matt to feel included and safe in playing a game that’s really too hard for them. Thank you very much, Zack. I have often noticed your kindness in other situations too––you show great skill in working with others.
An example from my primary classroom…
You know, Danton, at snack time I noticed that you saw some spilled juice on the floor by the sink and you took the initiative to get a cloth and clean it up. No one asked you to do that and it wasn’t your spilled juice. You just saw a job that needed doing and you decided to take care of it. What level is that? Then smile and walk away without waiting to hear the answer.
It’s been my experience that these types of sincere acknowledgements are extremely powerful. They don’t take much time, can be done in a convenient moment and are very encouraging to those particularly wonderful students that each of us are lucky enough to have in our classrooms. I think carefully worded feedback does sustain these children and encourage them to keep operating at a high level.