· Personal Growth
In this article, we will take a look at the second need, recognition.
We just completed our third and final awards assembly of the year. As my 8th graders received their awards for academic honors and attendance, I began to wonder if they were the same students who received those awards the previous year and the years before that. If that is the case, then a small fraction of my students are receiving this level of recognition. How are the larger majority of the students who remain watching from the bleachers being recognized?
Those are the three key ingredients. The positive recognition must be more common than negative recognition for each individual student. Like exercise, it must also be an ongoing part of the teaching process, not a one-time event that once experienced lasts forever. Lastly, students can see right through the shallow insincerity of the “You’re special, just like everyone else” one-size-fits-all compliment.
Through the years, I have had to train myself to recognize the talents and giftings inherent in each child. Sometimes they are easy to spot and fit nicely into the traditional scholastic models. Some students are good writers, good mathematicians, or hard workers. However, as teachers we believe that every student has a purpose and strengths. The ability to spot these talents can be developed through intentional training.
This year, I had two students who were failing my math course. They didn’t do any work, and it drove their parents crazy. However I noticed that whenever I posed a challenging question for consideration, they both engaged in the activity, thought about it at a deep cognitive level, and understood the underlying concepts. Yet the moment the assignment called for pencil, paper, or homework, I lost them.
I began to compliment both of them on their ability to think mathematically. I did this directly one-on-one, but I also did it publically. Often during class, I would say something like, “Have you noticed how Ben helped us understand what the problem was asking?” or “Randall, you have a good mind for this. What do you think would be a reasonable answer?”
Then I tried an even bolder experiment. I had a small group of very advanced students working independently on high school curriculum. I pulled both boys aside and asked them if they would be willing to work with that group, and both were anxious to try. They did wonderfully. They not only kept up with the group, they understood the content and at times even were able to help the other students understand the concepts.
At the awards assembly, I gave them both recognition for their advanced mathematical thinking. I invited their parents to attend. One balked. He didn’t think it was right to give his son an award when he had F’s in other classes. I had to explain that his son was indeed talented. The father admitted that his son had told him that maybe he should try a positive approach instead of pointing out all his shortcomings.
The next day, I was in my classroom before school when the boy dropped by and gave me a chocolate bar. “Thank you,” I said surprised.
“Thank you,” he responded.
“Oh sure,” I said. “No problem.
He looked at me very seriously and said, “No, I really mean it. Thank you.”
I could see written in his face the profound affect that the recognition had on his self-perception.